Falling Epically And Having Fun: Surfing In Far Rockaway With The Locals

FatBottomSlimxLocalsLast summer, I REALLY wanted to go surfing. I’d taken a lesson the summer before with the intention of doing it more but then work got in the way. This year, I’m determined to make surfing and being at the beach a thing I make time for – so I emailed the Locals Surf School to see if they had a spot for me that weekend.  The first time I tried on a Thursday night, they were completely booked up for that weekend, since at the beginning of June every weekend spot is claimed quickly. The following week, I planned ahead, emailing on a Monday and managed to snag a coveted Sunday slot!

I took my very first lesson with the Locals and for me, they are still the go-to surf instruction in Far Rockaway. Owned and operated by Far Rockaway beach natives (hence the name) – “the Mikes” Mike Kololyan and Mike Reinhardt, have created something special. Both have over 15 years of surf experience, are committed to having a 3-to-1 student/teacher ratio and only hire people who are current or former lifeguards. So, when I wanted to take another lesson, I only wanted to go back to them because I knew I would be in good hands.

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The cool thing about going out to 67th Beach in Far Rockaway is that from my part of Brooklyn, you really only have to get on one train and just ride it straight out to the beach!  It never fails to feel like the coolest thing, to get on in the middle of busy city-ness and get off in a beach community. I got there early, since even though it is a straight shot, it is a subway on the weekend and I didn’t want to miss a minute of my class. The fella, an avid surfer, had come with me and after I got all checked in, wandered off to rent a board to use for the day.   I had brought my own wetsuit, since the water was still so cold it was needed, but while pulling it up on the beach, I promptly ripped it (r.i.p. supersuit).  Thankfully, the Locals are fully decked out with wetsuits for their students to wear and handed up a perfectly sized one without hesitation.

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Our group was promptly sent out with Josh, who went over some stretches to get ready, went over our “experience” and then we were off into the water. I was briefly confused since the first class I took there was a section on the beach were you went over safety things to remember, how to pop-up and lots of practice perfecting the pop-up before you headed out.  After paddling out into the water, I glanced back to the beach and realized that I’d been put in the “experienced” group and that up on the beach, the brand new folks were practicing their pop-ups with one of the Mikes.  I immediately decided to just go with it and got into the idea that I really did remember enough from my first outing to make this happen.

FatBottomSlimxLocals IIFor the next two hours, I attempted to catch a wave.  The way the classes work is one at a time you paddle back towards your instructor who is standing in the chest high ocean, then while you face the shore they watch for waves and talk to you about how you can improve after each attempt. When a good wave comes, you are told to start paddling, are given a shove and finally they scream “POP. UP.” In the perfect world, you pop up smoothly, get low and ride that wave all the way to the beach. I never quite made that happen. I’d get up for a little bit, sometimes for longer than others, then lose it and fall epically. I was REALLY good at the falling epically part but would just laugh it off, grab my board and paddle back out. The thing is, I LOVE being out on that board. The waiting for a wave, bobbing in the ocean part is just about the best thing on the planet. I can see why catching the wave is supposed to be the best part –and it is awesome when it happens – but really, it’s important to appreciate the amazingness of just being out there too.  Josh was ridiculously helpful, going over pointers and being super supportive since I really wasn’t able to ride anything without falling at the end.  I think he thought I was getting frustrated but really, I loved every minute of my session.  After two hours, I was wiped but so blissed out. I hauled my big board up on the beach and back to the Locals tent. Up on the beach, I stripped off my wetsuit, putting it in the worn laundry bag and then plopped down on my beach towel and waited for the fella to finish up his surf session….

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The only thing to do after that was head over to Ripper’s and grab a well-earned beer!

Catching A Wave: Locals Surf School

At the beginning of this summer, the Fella started surfing almost every weekend.  He was immediately hooked on the sport, but I was otherwise occupied in full Triathlon training, so I never tagged along. Then last weekend, the fella announced: “I have signed you up for a surf lesson with the Locals Surf School on Sunday.”  I was beyond excited – learning to surf has been on my list of things I have wanted to do far longer than anything else and here was my chance to make that happen, happily dropped in my lap as a present.

On Sunday morning, we walked down to the A-train for our trek out to 67th Street in Far Rockaway. The coolest thing about it is that it is really a straight shot out to that beach, no switching of trains needed. The fella brought his board of course, (yes, a surfboard now lives in the living room of our Brooklyn apartment), so that he could surf too, while I was in my class.  I don’t know why but I LOVE seeing surfboards on the subway – it makes the fact that we really are close to a beach seam so real!  40 minutes after getting on the train in Brooklyn, we were making our way down the beach to the Locals Surf School tent.

Started by Michael Kololyan and Michael Reinhardt, two Rockaway locals who want to share their love of the NY surfing community, Locals Surf School aims to make every student feel the rush of actually riding a wave.  They actually even say during the first few minutes of class that they will get everyone able to stand up on the board during the first class! Their classes are small, with no more than 3 students per instructor, to help guarantee that everyone gets a lot of chances at catching and riding as many waves as possible during the 2 hour class. As we all started to gather for our first class, we were each given thicker, long-sleeve rash guards to wear during class, which I was really grateful for, since it was a little chilly that day and my short sleeve light rash guard (really just a glorified t-shirt) just wasn’t going to cut it!

The first part of class is held on the beach, going over safety tips and technique before we actually went out into the water. We learned where we were supposed to be on the board – which was much farther back than I would have guessed, how to successfully paddle in the water and how you were supposed to land from your pop-up to have the right balance to actually ride the wave and not topple over. It’s funny, it turns out that all of my SurfSet classes actually meant that I had a pretty good handle on doing the pop-up right! Nice. The Mikes kept a watchful eye on all of us as we practiced and corrected everyone’s form as we worked on the basics. Then right before we went out, they went over the most important thing we needed to remember while we were out in the water: the acroymn CRAL – Cover your head when you fall (so you don’t get whacked by your board or another surfer), Relax – really you will just be under for a few seconds (don’t panic), Air – breathe when you come up, don’t gasp or you might end up with a mouth of water but DO breathe, you’re fine,and Look where you are so you don’t get hit by another surfer. A good solid acronym and easy to remember. Of course, in my first fall, I didn’t and got hit in the mouth with my board because I am smooth like that – from there on out I fully remembered CRAL every time.

While we were on our boards, the Mikes stood in the water chest deep and we paddled to meet them.  They would hold our boards and watch for waves behind us.  When they spotted one, they would start telling us to paddle and give us a shove and at the right moment would yell “POP-UP!” It was amazing how effective this method was in actually getting you into position to ride the wave into shore. The first few times, I fell off almost immediately.  I would then grab my board, hop back on and paddle out to wait my turn to try again. Since my fella was also surfing in the same area, even the time between going for a wave was fun since he would paddle over to me and chat while I waited. I really loved bobbing on the surfboard out in the ocean – it was just so ridiculously relaxing to be out on the water on the board. When I would get flagged to come in, each time I had a moment of “Oh, yeah, I am supposed to be SURFING!” and then would haul ass back to the guys – lucky for me I am a really strong paddler!

There were a few guys in my class, but it was funny…the women (myself included) really spent more time trying to catch the waves and paddling back to the Mikes as soon as one of them opened up. We had a third guy helping us too, somehow I missed his name but he was great too. The instructors all were just cool, relaxed guys, who love surfing and want to help make every student love being on that board too. They were super supportive on each attempt, telling us what went wrong and that next time we’d get it.  It took a few tries but I did finally start catching waves and riding them all the way to shore…and really there isn’t a better feeling in the world! I LOVED it. Thanks to Locals Surf School, I managed to ride multiple waves all the way to shore! Although I thought they were full of it when they said they could get me there at the beginning of class, they did.  I totally caught the surfing bug… I can’t wait to go again.

Top photo from Locals Surf School’s website. Rest of the images taken by Eric C Stafford of my first successful ride in!

Kira Stokes & Stoked Surf 360: Rising to the Challenge

On Saturday, I finally got the chance to try Kira Stokes‘ take on a SurfSet Fitness class called Stoked Surf 360.  Going into the class, I just KNEW it was going to be a good one, although, I was a little worried that there wasn’t a class scheduled afterwards because Kira really loves a little overtime push! I have gotten the chance to try a few of her classes in the Stoked 360 series (both the regular version and the small group version and I LOVED both) and assumed that this class would be in a similar vein. It was so much more than that, though.  It wasn’t just a retread of those great classes, but really took into account the uniqueness of the surfboard apparatus. It is always such a treat to get to train with someone like Kira, who is so inspiring and passionate about what she does and loves to challenge those she trains – and herself! The SurfSet Ripsurfer X (a surfboard balanced on top of three small exercise balls with handles attached to resistance bands for use in paddling) is such a fun, unique tool, that it was fun to see someone really push it to the limits of what it could be used for. She obviously LOVED getting to play with using a new tool and how to get an intense workout while using the board to its full advantage. Kira demonstrated the form of every single move, breaking it down so you knew where you were supposed to be throughout the whole movement. From the simplest of moves to the most complex, Kira is all about form. I know that by the end of any class with Kira, I will have been pushed, challenged, thoroughly worked out but I won’t ever leave hurt because she is watching every move too closely for that.

It was definitely a Stoked class, with every circuit done 3 times like in her other classes -once to learn it, once to master the moves, once to fatigue – but each was tailored to include one strength, one surf and one core move for each round. Kira was, of course, a complete stickler for form – even if you are on a wobbly surface she has a knack for really watching everyone’s form on every single move. In her normal classes, when she is demonstrating the next circuit, you jump rope or do jumping jacks – in this class, it was all about paddling. Each circuit, though, also contained a move that made me go “whaaaaaaaaat?” as she was doing the demo. In the first set, it was a burpee move that included a jump at the end, which in the first set, was completely out of the question, but by the third, I was actually managing at least a small hop at the end. In one set, it was a brutal combo move that went from a squat to a one leg deadlift, then to an upright row on one foot…all while holding the handles. In another, there was a frog move (which I sort of loved even though it was in a tricep set that made me want to cry) where you popped off the board with your feet on either side into sort of a modified dolphin push up with way more movement, then back up onto the board, straightening out your arms.  Kira made it look effortless but it was SO hard! By the time we got to the final standing section, I was dripping with sweat and shaky, but also loving EVERY single minute of that class. It was hard, but all the sections flowed into one another in a way that made perfect sense and built into a solid base for the final standing series that was the pop-up section. It was awesome and I was flying high from it, because all the prep for getting there made the pop-ups seem really natural – which has never been the case for me!  The very last section was the core section and was super hard, of course. Have you seen Kira’s abs?? None of my moves were nearly as graceful as the ones she demonstrated but really that isn’t a shock – she is RIPPED and her core strength is no joke!  Mine, not so much.  Must add that to the list of things to work on…

The entire class was on the board – all 85 minutes of it. It was so awesome to see someone really embrace the opportunity to really change up their core classes and create a class that was so focused on really being on the board and using it to its full advantage. Kira’s class was awesome, inspired and just really fun. I wasn’t surprised but Kira loves what she does so much that it really was a treat to get to watch her play with something new – and still be just as amazing as always.


(Photos taken by Eric Stafford for FBS)

Holly Rilinger & The Joy Factor

On Saturday morning, bright and early, I made my way to Flywheel for one of my absolute favorite ways to kick off a Saturday right: Holly Rilinger’s ridiculously popular 10:45am class. The class sells out every week, for good reason of course.  It is ridiculously inspiring, joyful and just plain fun. It is her only 60 minute class every week and the energy of the room is always intense and positive, people really open up and just soak up the joy that Holly always brings to what she teaches. In most Flywheel classes, I try to be in the front two rows because, although all the seats are good due to the stadium seating in their studios, I get progressively worse the further I sit back in the room. For Holly’s Saturday class, though, those first couple of rows are almost impossible to snag and since I was determined to take BOTH her Flywheel class AND her SurfSet class that day, I had to take what I could get and was relegated to the back row. I HATE the back row and Saturday, I was convinced my bike hated me too. Holly, of course, was amazing and you could feel her joy and energy even from that back row bike.  Still, I had a terrible time getting my legs to actually fly that morning.

When the lineup for Rate Your Burn/SurfSet’s April pop-up in Chelsea Market was announced, I knew right away that I would have to take a few of their classes, since the list included so many of the instructors that I love in town. Narrowing it down to just 3 was hard but I knew immediately that Holly Rilinger’s class would be one of them, that was just a given.  I mean, really, I would try ANY class Holly taught, but given that she loves to surf, it seemed like a perfect fit for her. I don’t surf (I plan to remedy that this summer though!) and couldn’t tell you if being on the SurfSet board is anything like being on a real board, but I do think that knowing how to surf makes the transition to teaching a SurfSet class seem really natural.

Originally, the plan was that a group of us were going to go over with Holly after class but that didn’t quite pan out. So, that morning after class, I made my way over to Chelsea Market with Holly and the fitness model from her recent Fitness magazine shoot.  Check out Holly’s plan in the May issue of Fitness Magazine here (you can watch the video on their site too, and even though you have to register to watch the video, it is so worth it to check out the moves in action). If you ever want to test your self-esteem, try walking with those two stunning, ridiculously fit women!  Thank God they both have a goofy, joyful, fun streak or I would have wanted to crawl under a rock.  We grabbed some iced coffee at the market (since, really, it was such a beautiful day) before making our way to the make-shift studio, deep in the heart of the market. It was my first class in the Chelsea Market, even though I had gone to the kickoff party and was really excited to see what they had done with the space. The cool thing about the space is that it is really light and airy and fits almost double the amount of boards than at the studio at Chelsea Piers, where I had taken class before. The space doesn’t have changing rooms though, which I had guessed, so I had come fully workout ready (and admittedly a little sweaty from Flywheel).  There is a bathroom in the studio, so you wouldn’t be totally in trouble if you didn’t come prepared! The laid-back vibe is in this space too, thanks in part to SurfSet’s cool old surf film projections. They really did a great job of maxing out the fun, chill vibe that really is intrinsic to a surf-based class! Holly played some great music and made the class a fun challenge with lots and lots of paddling and so many brutal squats in all sorts of variations, pushups, planks and popups. Holly, of course, brought her passion and joy to the board, just like she does on the bike – and at one point, we jumped off the board and danced a little too, because there has to be dancing in a Holly class! The class FLEW by and by the end, I was sore, giggling and just joyful. It doesn’t get better than that.  I walked out into the beautiful, sunny day, with a smile I couldn’t shake and enjoyed wandering through the glorious city with the fella, who had come to meet me. It was an absolutely perfect day and reminded me how really good life can be…

(The “Joy Factor” is Holly’s new slogan and it is just so fitting, photos from Saturday’s SurfSet class by the fella, bottom image just a little internet goodness…)

Snapping out of a funk with SurfSet Fitness & The Sporting Center at Chelsea Piers…

Last week was one of those weeks that seemed never ending, far too stressful and just in general, dreadful.  I knew going into it that it would be. So, I had booked a SurfSet Fitness class at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers, knowing it would be the perfect thing to snap me out of my funk. I was so right – it really was the perfect class to have planned for the end of a bad week.

The first time I had taken SurfSet, I took the “SUP” version but this time I took the “Classic SurfSet” class.  I also planned accordingly, because this time, I knew not to plan anything after the class. The thing about taking a SurfSet class is that afterwards, you have the run of the sports center… I didn’t realize that when I went the first time and had planned something right after it, but not this time. This time, I planned on scoping out the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers while I had the chance! I was a few minutes late to class because really, from Brooklyn, Chelsea is ridiculously hard to get to on a good day…but on a weekend? It just gets goofy.  I made it, but by the time I got there, I had missed the set-up talk and how if your board needs adjusting, to let them know. The only board that was left was in the corner and VERY loose. It was almost comically hard for me to get the gist of handling this board since it moved much more dramatically from side to side than the first one I had ridden. Once I finally got the hang of it, I could focus on the actual moves and not on my fear of face planting in the middle of class! The class flew by after that, included lots of paddling, pop-ups, lunges and some pushups, and ended with some yoga poses for good measure. At the very end, we even tried to do a Crow pose on the board for an extra challenge. My Crow can’t fly on solid ground so it was comically flightless on a moving platform!  Sigh, it was not my most graceful class by a long shot….

After class, I took full advantage of being in the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers, the most impressively amazing gym in the city. I have wanted to workout there since I moved to the city but even a day pass there is $50. However, if you sign up for a ridiculously fun SurfSet class, you then get the use of the full gym afterwards, which is SO awesome! I ran around the indoor track and took in the amazing gym.  I ran on one of their fancy treadmills and took in the gorgeous views of the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty. Seriously, being in a gym with huge windows, natural light and a killer view was vaguely intoxicating and exactly what I needed. I lifted weights in the spotless, stunning weight room, and rolled out on a foam roller in the stretch area before heading down to the locker room. Geeze people. Robes and plush towels, huge showers and an empty sauna… and yes, I took full advantage of the spa-like locker room. By the time I left, I was totally blissed out and loving life – a far cry from how I walked in!

After leaving Chelsea Piers, I headed to Chelsea to drink some yummy coffee and look at some good art, rounding out an absolutely perfect day. I couldn’t have asked for anything more!

( Top image from SurfSet’s Facebook page, middle image from The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers website, a bottom image a little bit of internet goodness)

SurfSet Fitness: catching a wave inside Chelsea Piers

On Saturday morning, I headed to The Sporting Center at Chelsea Piers to try out SurfSet Fitness.  It was a freezing morning and the idea of pretending to surf just sounded ridiculously appealing. I couldn’t really picture what the class would actually entail but was dying to find out. Due to the just general whackiness of MTA, my train options didn’t really put me all that close to Chelsea, so even leaving really early, I arrived at Chelsea Piers just 10 minutes before class was supposed to start. Ugh. I HATE cutting it that close! Especially going to a place for the first time, and since I have never actually been inside the Sporting Center, it took me a few super frustrating minutes to figure out how to get INTO the gym. I just didn’t expect to have to go through the garage to get in, now that I know where the entrance is, it makes more sense, but for a few minutes, there I was…really annoyed at how hidden it seemed! It also meant that I didn’t get the time I was hoping for to actually get to scope out the Sporting Center, a place I have been dying to check out! Oh well, check in was super quick and easy, and after changing in the gorgeous locker room, I hustled to the studio.

SurfSet is held in a small studio that you get to by following the indoor track to the back of the gym, past the indoor beach volleyball court, and next to the rock climbing wall.  Seriously, could this gym be any cooler? I got there before the class had actually started, but just barely, so after a quick hello and introduction, I went to my surf board just as our instructor, a classic surfer girl, started explaining about getting on the board. The room, a simple white box of a studio, had been given a beach-y vibe with palm trees in the corners and my favorite part, old surf movies projected onto the walls. I loved the mood set by that old footage, but of course, I was so busy trying to not fall off my board that I couldn’t really watch it once we started.

In the pictures I had seen of the “RipsurferX”, the indoor surfboard used in the class, it had sort of looked like a Pilates Reformer to me. So, when I first stepped on the board, I was taken aback by just how much the board moved and how unstable it was to stand on. This was going to be more challenging than I thought! The first few minutes I was really shaky but after a little getting used to the surface, I got the hang of it (no pun intended). SurfSet has different types of classes and the one I took was called the “SUP Challenge” – which somehow I had totally missed when signing up. We spent the majority of the class paddling standing up with a paddle attached to resistance bands. It was really hard – especially when we did lunges while paddling! My legs were quaking by the end of class. Since it IS a surfing based class, we did practice pop-ups, too.  The classic surf move. It took me awhile to get used to them, but towards the end, I was getting it and landing in the proper “ready to ride the wave stance”. The board’s unstable surface made even classic moves– from the squats, pushups, knee-to-elbow planks, situps and even a burpees variation– unique and really challenging. I loved the new spin on the moves but my favorite part was how it felt more like playing than working out.

SurfSet is a killer workout but also just a ridiculously good time. I can’t wait to go back! Next time, though, I will get there with a little extra time to spare so I don’t have to run past all the awesomeness at Chelsea Piers!

(Image of Studio from SurfSet’s Facebook page)