Paddleboard Pilates

Jenna Zaffino takes Pilates to a whole new level with Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) Pilates on Lake Michigan

As a Fletcher Pilates® Qualified Teacher, I pride myself on my ability to teach techniques that offer my students new methods of finding control and building resiliency. I’ve been teaching movement in Chicago for over a decade, with most of those years spent focused on teaching Pilates. Over the past few years, my curiosity about movement has led me to find new ways to challenge my Pilates foundation. Enter the stand-up-paddleboard or “SUP.”

Jenna's Pilates class on Lake Michigan

In February of last year, while on an annual “girls trip” to Treasure Island, Florida, I came across an article on SUP Pilates. I had minimal experience with SUP (only rented boards in Hawaii) and a history of motion sickness. Still, I thought “Hey! There’s that big lake in Chicago…. I could do this!”

I contacted the pioneer of SUP Pilates, Karen Mirlenbrink, and discovered that she was only 20 minutes from where I was staying in Dunedin, Florida. Karen is a Pilates teacher who also has a strong paddling and kayak racing background. She explained how she had combined the two skills to make a fun and challenging class format, and I was sold. It was too cold in February to start our training, so I immediately made plans to return for a weekend workshop in June.

In the meantime, I owned no boards and had no clue if I could do this. I started reaching out to local kayak places to see if they rented SUP’s. I finally found Kayak Chicago (who I now partner with). As a business owner, I made some tactical decisions to run registration through Kayak Chicago as they would have the outdoor liability coverage and the equipment. We set dates and created a marketing plan. I had the Pilates part down; I just needed to learn to teach the paddling (yikes!).

The June training in Florida was fantastic. We learned basic skills and tricks of the trade to work with the board. All of my Pilates skills were in full use. On the 2nd day, we began to integrate a full class on the board. The moves were so popular that a family of manatees approached us for a closer look. I thought this was cute until I realized one of them was attempting to make “sweet manatee love” to my board. “I think he’s singing Barry White,” I heard someone laugh.

PA Instructor Ed Botha

Upon returning to Chicago, I immediately set up times to rent a board and design my class. I would recommend this to anyone trying out this format for the first time. You never know how luxurious it is to teach in a studio that’s not moving beneath you until you teach on the water. Mother Nature does what she wants, and it’s in your best interest to go with her flow if you want to survive the class.

Potential Obstacles:

  1. Weather and Current: Some days the wind blows you to shore, some days out to “sea.” You have to be constantly up-to-date on the near-shore forecast as well as visually aware of the wind and direction of current to keep yourself and your class safe.
  2. Water Obstacles: Namely, fishing lines. In the lake, we have many avid fisherman who use clear fishing lines (the nerve!). If caught unaware, paddlers may experience a “clothes-lining effect" – it's unsafe for you, and it tends to upset the fishermen.
  3. Noise control: You are in constant competition with jet-skis, boats, "beachapalooza" festivals and wind. I recently purchased a “water–resistant” personal P/A system. It has been a Godsend and helped my class hear my directions with clarity – not to mention saving my voice.

After you’ve considered all of the obstacles, it’s time to have FUN! The best thing about SUP Pilates is that it is outdoor exercise. There is a sort of “Jesus Complex” that one gets while standing on the water. This same complex is quickly revoked as soon as the balancing exercises begin.

Class format:

  1. On-land Pilates warm-up that introduces some of the exercises we will revisit on the water
  2. Safety review
  3. Basic Paddling Skills
  4. “Circuit” type approach alternating between Pilates exercises and bursts of paddling for a cardio infused workout
  5. Exercises that start in standing, progress to quadruped and kneeling, seated, supine and prone
Kristi Cooper

Benefits include:

  1. Total Body Conditioning
  2. Balance Training
  3. Awareness training (knowing when a wave is going to knock you off)
  4. Community Workout (working together to keep the group moving as a unit)

I am always up front with my class and tell them that some days it’s going to be more paddling, and some days more Pilates, but that the skills and maneuvering to control the board will always be present.

SUP Pilates is the most difficult format I’ve ever taught because of the classroom management. Not only do you need to stay standing on your board, but also make sure that others are standing on theirs while staying somewhat together as a group. Students frequently will fall in, which is part of the fun, but you are always keeping a class count to make sure you have all of the people you started with.

In addition, this format tends to make your students stare at you with either blank or terrified looks until they get the hang of it. My favorite moment is at the end of class when they land. They always smile and say: “That was amazing!”

About the Author

Jenna Zaffino

Jenna is a seasoned Pilates Professional, who specializes in providing inspiring continuing education and professional mentorship to Pilates Teachers. Her in-person sessions as well as her online offerings follow a theme that moves you from your heart. For more of Jenna’s offerings, visit


This looks really fun. Very inspiring post-will try. Thank you
2 people like this.
Great class format Jenna !
SUP Pilates is also Wonderful in St. Thomas :)
The University where I teach has included it in a Sports Adventure class ~ including credits !!
So Awesome and Love the pix
2 people like this.
I took this class with Jenna in Chicago--had a great time & a great workout! It's nice to challenge ourselves in so many unique ways with Pilates. Thanks!!
I love the picture of the class against the blue sky! Beautiful!
Thanks Jenna!
3 people like this.
It's time to start classes again on Clearwater Beach, FL!!
1 person likes this.
Very interesting! I want to learn more about this classes, where should we go? kisses from Spain
1 person likes this.
Thanks Jenna for all the advices! It seems that il will be easier for me , no fishermen, no jet-ski, boats...Will let you know!
1 person likes this.
Excellent article Jenna! Great information. Thank you!!

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