Nine paddleboards are anchored in the Willamette River on a warm summer day. The water is sparkling, the birds are flying overhead, ducks are swimming by, and everyone is laughing. Jess Donohue is leading her students in the practice of SUP yoga (stand up paddleboard yoga). Some students fall in, and that’s okay. This class is for people who want to get away and have fun while working out. This is for people who want to try something new.
“You can’t take yourself seriously when you might get wet, so people end up doing headstands,” Donohue says. “People go in. It’s great. It’s fun.”
Donohue has been teaching SUP yoga for two years. Her first year was a soft launch with only a few classes, but last year her summer was booked solid. She owns her own small fleet of nine paddleboards, so she can take up to eight people per class. She offers scheduled classes twice a week and is also available for private group sessions. This year, she expects business to keep growing. Though the SUP yoga season is based on the weather, she is available after Memorial Day and until the rainy weather hits, usually around October.
Donohue begins the session either at Alton Baker Park or by the dog park near Autzen Stadium. The group then paddles to the designated anchor spot, where they begin their 45-minute yoga session. Afterwards, they paddle back. The whole session lasts about two hours.
“These classes are for everyone, regardless of their experience with either yoga or paddleboarding,” says Donohue. “Some people come having never been on a board before, and the paddle out is a bit of a challenge.” The novice stage doesn’t last long, though. “After 45 minutes of yoga, there is a shift in their confidence, and the paddle home is a breeze,” she says. “Likewise, those new to yoga find they can do well given all the modifications I offer.”
With all different levels of experience in her classes, Donohue asks everyone beforehand what they want to get out of their session. They always begin with a low center of gravity, starting on their hands and knees or on their back. Once their confidence begins to grow, they begin standing poses.
“I modify everything,” Donohue says. “Most people come and say ‘It looks really hard,’ or ‘I’m scared,’ or ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this.’ Showing them how accessible it is, seeing them overcoming their fears, and then seeing that glow afterwards of ‘I just did that!’—there’s nothing better.”
Donohue says the best thing about SUP yoga is the sense of getting away. Even though the class is taught in town, it feels like you are on vacation. “Having that connection on the water and feeling the energy and the wind, it’s really different than doing yoga in a box with a roof over you,” she says.
Another pull factor is the playfulness that SUP yoga offers, even for serious yogis.
“It’s different,” Donohue says, explaining that her class attracts “people who like to be outside, outdoor enthusiasts—the novelty thing is a big thing.”
Even on rainy summer days, Donohue and her class anchor down their boards, wearing multiple layers and enjoying hot tea afterwards.
With the popularity of yoga and paddleboarding both growing in Eugene, Donohue is excited to see how the combination grows this spring and summer. She also aspires to take this to tropical getaways or resorts.
Yoga, sunshine, laughter, surrounded by nature.
“It’s just magical,” Donohue says.