The clouds were nearly gone and the humidity was settling into solid, sticky air, but one by one people arrived in the summer sun, wearing combinations of bathing suits and athletic wear.
Some called themselves yogis, some paddle boarders, but on this day, they would become both. Finding balance is challenging enough on a mat, and this group was about to tackle it over water. Welcome to stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) yoga.
Waiting to greet participants was Megan Cynowa, owner of The Goat Boater, Lake Wylie Paddleboarding. Brightly colored boards rested near a trailer attached to Cynowa’s Jeep Wrangler as she went over safety instructions and distributed paddles.
Cynowa then turned the class over to yoga instructor Missy Bagley. On dry ground, Bagley teaches at Be Yoga in Charlotte. But on this day, she and her students traded in mats for boards and carried them under their arms to the water’s edge at Nivens Creek Landing.
“The main difference between yoga on the mat and yoga on the board is obviously your center of gravity,” Bagley said as she guided the class through a slow flow. The class catered to skill levels from beginner to advanced, with available modifications for nearly every pose.
Many of the students left the shore as beginners, but they would return enlightened, reaching a zen-like connection with nature and the water (some literally; falling is a part of this process).
“If you get a lot of people that are really enthusiastic and really wanting to try and give it their all, they are going to fall in at least once a class,” Bagley said. “Everybody just kinda laughs and it’s honestly refreshing. Sometimes people just jump in during their vinyasas because they’re like ‘it’s so hot and I need a little bit of cooling off.’”
Student Erica Helms of Rock Hill said the SUP class was only her second time practicing yoga. “The environment is amazing; if there’s ever a time to do yoga, especially for first-timers, this is it: calm water, perfect weather, listening to nature. I highly recommend it.”
The Goat Boater, born after a trip around the world
While traveling the world for two and-a-half years starting around 2009, Cynowa discovered paddle boarding.
“I can't surf back home,” the Tega Cay native said, “but I can take this sport back home.”
After her trip, Cynowa bought her first paddle board and headed out on Lake Wylie.
“I thought I was cool then, because I would go out on the lake for 10 minutes and putz around on my paddle board,” she said. “After a while, I was like, ‘there’s gotta be more to the sport than this.’”
Rob Cynowa, who is a chiropractor by day, said The Goat Boater focuses first on safety, then fun, in order to create an enjoyable experience.
“Most people go buy a crappy paddle board, they go out two or three times, they put a couple of family members on it, and then it’s going to sit in the shed and never be used again. If you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re on bad equipment, it’s like riding a Huffy bike in a marathon (sic),” he said.
Not just yoga
Besides yoga, The Goat Boater has a host of other available activities. During the summer, they host an adult SUP league on Wednesday nights at the Tega Cay Beach & Swim Center.
During the 13 week training, “We work on becoming efficient paddlers, better paddlers,” Megan Cynowa said. This is done through a series of drills highlighting techniques.
“If people want to become racers, this is a great league,” she said.
Athletic ability is not required, however. “Stand-up paddle boarding is the only sport that anybody can actually compete in,” Cynowa said.
In fact, the majority of Cynowa’s students are beginner paddlers.
“I get a lot of retirees, moms with empty nest syndrome, people looking to rebrand themselves.” Many are looking “to find their passion again in life or to try something new,” she said.
“The SUP League is an amazing intro,” Cynowa said. “In 13 weeks, our goal is to take somebody from that beginner level to that advanced level.”
For paddlers ready to progress past the one of The Goat Boater’s introductory classes, a nighttime excursion on Lake Wylie might be just what the doctor ordered.
Moonlight Madness is held on nights with a full moon from spring to fall. Boards are lit by LED lighting systems. Paddlers use glow sticks and headlamps to help guide their way.
If paddlers are lucky, the lights will highlight fish swimming below. The best nights for fish companions are right after a rain or during a light drizzle, Cynowa said.
“Those are the nights that the fish jump,” she said. “You’ll be on your board and they are literally jumping through your legs.”
Tim Hines of Charlotte found Moonlight Madness through a social media event, and he said he was glad to have attended.
“I got to enjoy nature and meet some interesting and eclectic people in the process,” he said.
Koo MacQueen of Charlotte had never been out on Lake Wylie when she ventured to Moonlight Madness. “I was very intrigued by the pictures of the boards with their LED lights and how the glowed like amoebas,” she said. “This was both an opportunity to experience the lake and the beauty of a full moon.”
Melissa Oyler: @melissaoyler
Want to try SUP?
Among other excursions, The Goat Boater offers the following:
Intro to SUP; $65 for a private lesson; $45 to join a class
SUP yoga; $35 per person or $150 for a 5-class pass
Adult SUP league: $75 with your own board or $200 includes gear rental
Moonlight Madness: $75
Youth SUP camp: $250; camp is full for 2017
Technique clinics: $100 for a private PaddleFit technique session; $65 to join a class
Paddle board rentals: $25 for the first hour; $10 each additional hour; $80 day
The company has 16 boards, although students are welcome to bring their own.
Did you know?
Goat boater is actually a derogatory term used by surfers to describe those who do paddle sports. Megan Cynowa said they thought it would be clever to name their company after a term that few people recognize as offensive. In fact, she said, the reason she established The Goat Boater was to turn her surfing passion into an adventure she could continue on the still waters of Lake Wylie.