BOARDING SCHOOL

BOARDING SCHOOL

Peg Stierwalt grew up surrounded by cornfields, not water. But she's become passionate about the water sports of stand-up paddleboarding and paddleboard yoga.

The Tolono woman first tried stand-up paddleboarding in February 2015 while visiting friends in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. They paddled on canals in the area. "It was a very fun Florida thing to do," Stierwalt said.

Several months later, another friend who was vacationing in Key West told her about a paddleboard yoga class there. Stierwalt — who has done yoga for at least 15 years — was intrigued. She soon bought her first paddleboard and began exploring the water in central Illinois last fall. She has paddled the Embarras River, Homer Lake, the ponds at Kickapoo State Recreation Area and the Salt Fork River.

"I'm a farm girl. I didn't grow up on the water," Stierwalt said. "It's opened up a part of Illinois I've never seen. I like that you feel so much more a part of the water and the place you're in, even more than in a kayak.

Blog Photo"It's such a unique way to experience the water. (On a river), you're navigating logs, rocks, fallen trees. You can really explore an area intimately."

Stierwalt initially watched a lot of YouTube videos to learn how to paddle correctly. She said it is very different from paddling a canoe or kayak. A stand-up paddleboarder keeps the arms straight, uses the core and twists the hips as he or she pulls the paddle through the water.

Having a strong core is important, Stierwalt said, so you don't get tired quickly. So is knowing where to stand on the board — at the balance point near the middle of the board.

"Especially with a bigger guy, being even slightly off of that is going to change how the board reacts and your balance," she said.

Most beginners start out paddling from a kneeling position until they are comfortable standing up.

In January, Stierwalt went to Key West and completed training to become certified as a World Paddle Association Level 1 paddleboard instructor and a paddle yoga teacher.Blog Photo

"The first thing that struck me about doing yoga on the board is being out in nature. It's so quiet. You're amongst all the wildlife," Stierwalt said.

"The instability of the board and the connection with the water adds a challenge and a sereneness that you don't get in the studio. It's a moving, dynamic addition to your yoga practice that just really appeals to me," she added.

When she does yoga on a paddleboard, the board is anchored with a 10-pound anchor so it doesn't drift across a body of water. Not all yoga poses are suitable for a paddleboard and some must be modified, Stierwalt said.

She does a lot of sun salutations and slow, restorative poses. Warrior poses and inversions such as headstands and handstands are possible. But the lack of a fixed gazing point on the water makes some poses considerably more difficult, she said.

"It's really, really good for getting out of your head in a different way and really focusing on your practice," Stierwalt said. "When I'm out on the board, I don't think about anything but being right there."

She now owns four paddleboards — one for touring that she uses on lakes or when rivers are high; two for yoga, which are wider, more stable and flat on top with a surface like a yoga mat; and one for river paddling, with a flexible fin on the bottom that won't be ruined if she paddles over submerged rocks or logs.

Stierwalt usually paddles with her children, ages 10 and 6, and her dog. Sometimes all of them will be on the same board, along with a cooler. Other times, her children will paddle their own boards.

"It's a very calming place for them to be," Stierwalt said.

Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at jheckel@news-gazette.com, or follow her at twitter.com/jodiheckel. Her blog is at news-gazette.com/blogs/starting-line.

Blog PhotoFloating an idea ...

Peg Stierwalt of Tolono and two friends are in the planning stages of a local paddleboard and paddle yoga venture. They'd like to get a fleet of paddleboards and offer paddleboard classes and tours and paddle yoga.

Stierwalt's partners are Gina Johnson, a mental health counselor and life coach with an Urbana business called blueprint, and Susan Mantell, a doctor operating a Philo clinic called Center for Your Health. Stierwalt said both her partners are interested in the healing aspects that paddleboarding and paddle yoga might offer their clients — and patients — a close connection with nature, the calming aspects of being on the water, and encouraging mindfulness and an active lifestyle.

Those interested in paddleboard lessons or paddle yoga can contact the women at info@takeonalife.com.

Photos: Top, Peg Stierwalt and her children paddleboard at Kickapoo State Recreation Area this spring. Middle, Peg Stierwalt completed paddleboard and paddle yoga instructor training in January in Key West, Fla. Bottom, Peg Stierwalt (foreground) does yoga on the water. Photos provided by Peg Stierwalt.

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