Surf’s up at new fitness studio on Austin’s South Lamar Boulevard

City Surf Fitness classes work your core, back and shoulders


I’m not hanging 10. I’m not on dawn patrol. And I feel like I might pitch headfirst off my board at any moment during my first go at an indoor surf fitness class.

The upside? No men in gray suits — aka sharks — and a whole lot of core work and sweating during my 50-minute session at City Surf Fitness, which opened in January on South Lamar Boulevard.

Fitness crazes come in waves, and the latest looks a little like a Hawaiian beach, only without the sand, palm trees and water. At City Surf, students exercise atop a land-locked surfboard mounted on three stability balls.

If that sounds easy, it’s not.

I opt for a 6 p.m. class on a Wednesday night, but you can pick from early morning, noon or evening sessions. The lineup includes the basic City Surf class I’m taking, or a yoga-themed class called Buddha Board. A Big Kahuna strength training class and a barre class called Pipeline are coming soon.

After checking in and signing a waiver, I claim a board in the corner. In all, 17 boards are snugly arranged in two rows in the studio, which is lined with mirrors in the front and splashed with blue painted waves in the back. I’m sporting a pair of flowery yellow board shorts — come on people, we’re surfing here! — but everyone else is wearing stretchy black exercise pants.

Cowabunga!

Christina Blanco, 40, who works at a local insurance company, climbs onto the board next to me. It’s her fifth class, and it doesn’t take long to figure out she knows what she’s doing.

I’m a swimmer and a slalom water skier. I’m in pretty good shape. I figure I’ll be fine. Then I climb onto the board, which wiggles like a bowl of Jell-O. Balance isn’t one of my strengths. I glance a little enviously at Blanco, who looks like she could have starred in the surf documentary “Step Into Liquid.”

No matter. I still get a heck of a workout. The board quivers and quakes, and it takes all those little tiny core muscles I rarely use to keep myself steady.

As class starts, instructor Tyler Guthrie points out the board’s nose (front tip) and rails (sides). She invites the students, mostly women in their 20s and 30s, to step on and off their boards for a few minutes to get a feel for how they flex as we shift our weight.

Then things get real.

Surfers have to paddle out to catch their waves, so we lay belly down on the boards and pinwheel our arms like we’re headed out to sea. Before class wraps up, we’ve done squats, planks, pushups, curls, twists, burpees and lunges on the board, but my favorite moves — like the barrel roll, where we grab the board’s rail with one hand and wave the other behind us — mimic real surfing.

“Drop those hips! Fifteen seconds! Reach for the front of the board!” hollers Guthrie, 30.

At one point, a student tumbles gently to the floor. “That looked like a nice tuck and roll,” Guthrie calls out, after making sure she’s uninjured. “Was it fun?”

Those who feel uncomfortable on the board are encouraged to do the some of the exercises on the floor instead, and that’s what I do. Soon my abs are screaming.

As class winds down, we lay back on our boards and relax. Guthrie walks around the room, placing cold wet towels infused with lavender and orange oils on our foreheads. I feel like I’m floating; it’s lovely.

The Austin studio is a spinoff of a Dallas club that opened two years ago. Joy Leyendecker, who owns the studio with her fiancé, Andy Heller, says it appeals to people who are looking for something different — and challenging — in their workout.

When you take a class, “the first time, you’re humbled; the second time you start to build stability and muscle memory; and the third time you really begin to feel powerful on that board,” she says.

Or, as Guthrie, the instructor, puts it, “After two or three times the fear factor is gone and you’re owning it.”

Sarah Reel, 32, an elementary school teacher in Austin, seems to have no fear. “It’s really different, but pretty easy on my body,” says Reel, who is used to hoisting 40-pound weights during CrossFit workouts. She also knows how to surf — in a real, water-filled ocean.

Like me, Paige Salzbrenner, 26, manager of Snap Kitchen, feels a little more trepidation. “It’s something new and challenging that I’ve never done before,” she says. “It’s also extremely scary — the balance and falling.”

The studio even draws folks who are headed to a real beach, where they might get to try real surfing. Students here engage the same muscle groups used to surf on water, but don’t come expecting surf instruction.

“This won’t teach you to surf any more than a spin class will teach you to bike,” Leyendecker says.

That’s OK. But I do have one request — a little background music by the Beach Boys, please.



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