Surf's up in the fitness studio

PHOTO: Surf's up in the fitness studio

NEW YORK - Spun out on spinning? Bored in barre class?

Group fitness gadflies can rejoice. Indoor surfing is a new workout, born of the sea but carving out a place in the center of town.

"It's actually harder than surfing," Sarah Ponn, co-founder and fitness director of SurfSET Fitness, said of the class, which claims to squeeze about three hours' worth of surfing-based movement into the 45-minute indoor workout.

"Our primary goal is fitness," she said. "We burn a lot of calories. There's a lot of paddling, a lot of standing on an unstable board. It's very athletic."

The class revolves around a piece of equipment called the RipSurfer X, which was developed by SurfSET's CEO Mike Hartwick, as a way to stay fit after he retired from professional hockey in 2010.

"A surfboard, a real one, is mounted on an unstable surface of inflatable bladders. It moves based on where you place your weight," Ponn explained. "It's like being on water. (In surfing) if you step down with your right foot it will displace the water. Here it's not water, it's air."

The class is sequenced like a surfing session on the sea, even as it draws from many disciplines, from interval training to resistance training to Pilates.

"We do what you would do during a surf session," Ponn said.

The warm up is an intense cardio interval that mimics a sea surfer's paddling out to beyond the break. Then the abdominal work kicks in.

"We incorporate a lot of core strength training," Ponn said. "Then we move into sprint segment."

Woven into the workout are indoor versions of such surf staples as duck dives, pushing under a wave, and pop ups, going from lying to standing on the board in one jump.

Ponn said a session can burn up to 1,000 calories. It also cultivates the traditionally long, lean, well-defined surfer-type body.

"It's not a body builder mentality," Ponn said. "It's not about bulking up."

For months the class has been popping up temporarily in venues around New York City, Los Angeles, Atlantic City, New Jersey and the Hamptons. A flagship studio is set to open in New York in September.

Florida-based fitness and wellness expert Shirley Archer thinks SurfSET is particularly suitable for sports enthusiasts, especially surfers, seeking a fun and different total body workout.

"It challenges balance, endurance, upper, lower and core body muscles, and co-ordination," said Archer, who is a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, after observing a session on the company's website.

She cautions that the risk-averse, the beginning exerciser, or the injury-impaired might want to look elsewhere.

"The exercises - duck dips, deep squats, etc. - are fairly challenging and may be too difficult for people who need to move more slowly and with smaller ranges of motion," said Archer, who is impressed by the apparatus and the creativity of the workout.

Ponn said the company is developing a class for older people. A home version of the RipSurfer X is also in the works.

"The machine is highly adjustable," she explained. "You can tighten it down so that it barely moves."

The only counter-indication she mentioned was pregnancy.

"You can't lie on your stomach and paddle when you're pregnant," she said. "It's kind of sad."