Poses with a paddle

Participants recline in corpse pose. Photo: Sean Carroll
Participants recline in corpse pose. Photo: Sean Carroll

Surely a stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP) yoga retreat doesn't actually mean you do yoga while floating on a paddleboard? I've tried SUP twice: once to visit St Kilda's Little Penguin colony at dusk and again in Geelong, where we cruised around yachts and under piers. I didn't fall off either time, but I was in a learner's state of caution (I guess you could call it the statue pose), and I certainly wasn't combining the activity with yoga. This time, it seems, I will be.

After a six-hour Saturday evening flight from Sydney, our group of five goes back in time (we've crossed the International Date Line) to spend Saturday morning (again) at the bustling local market, drinking Nu (green coconut water) and trying the delicious dish of raw fish cured in lime and coconut milk.

Day two is the official start to our paddle-boarding retreat (there will be two sessions a day for five days).

I look at the lagoon from my balcony and decide that as lovely as St Kilda and Geelong are, neither is a patch on this South Pacific island. Rarotonga, the main island of the Cook Island group, is completely surrounded by lagoon. Its backing soundtrack is the smashing of huge waves against the reef surrounding it. Between the reef and the myriad beachfront resorts, there's coral and thousands of sparkling fish. When the sun shines the water turns fluoro blue. Well, if I'm going to fall in while attempting "downward-facing dog" on a foam board, this is the place to do it.

Charlotte Piho is the Sydney-based Cook Islander who runs these retreats, and she's an accredited SUP yoga instructor. She's working in partnership with lifesaver and surfer Sean Carroll, so we retreat-goers are in good hands. Our first session, held in choppy conditions right outside our hotel, is surprisingly successful, with all of us standing up and paddling quickly.

"Relax!" Charlotte tells us during our second session. "Look up, keep paddling and relax!" It's easier said than done; by day two my legs are shaking. Our second paddle is on calmer water, and we SUP around small islands before an hour of floating yoga. Most of us fall in at some point during the yoga sessions, and there are plenty of splashes come headstand time. Less demanding is corpse pose: lying on paddleboards, eyes closed, arms and legs dipped in the salty 25 degree water, drifting. It's bliss.

The retreat mixes SUP yoga with yoga on the beach, snorkelling, touristy but enjoyable local drum and dance shows, as well as an intense and slippery cross-island walk led by local legend "Pa". Throw in an expert massage, buckets of coconut water, hula dance lessons, healthy lunches put together by Charlotte and Sean, and it's perfect. Sure, I don't manage a headstand (or even a shoulder stand) but I develop a renewed vigour for yoga, a confidence in SUP and a passion for the magical Cook Islands.

THE FACTS

WHEN Workout on Water's Rarotonga retreats are scheduled for July 20-26, August 17-23 and September 7-13. workoutonwater.com.

PLAN Retreat packages from Melbourne start at $2129 a person, quad share, staying at The Rarotongan, flying Air New Zealand. Book though Coral Seas, coralseas.com.au, 1300 370 792.

Jayne D'Arcy travelled courtesy of Air New Zealand, Coral Seas, Cook Islands Tourism and Workout on Water.

This story Poses with a paddle first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.