‘Lie on your board, palms facing the sky and close your eyes” instructs our ridiculously good-looking SUP instructor, Charlotte Piho. “Let the current move you, while you focus on the sound of the water lapping against the sides of your boards… And breathe.”
Listening to Charlotte speak is melodic and transfixing, and all six of us on the water slowly start to breathe in unison. We’re in the middle of a Workout on Water SUP class that incorporates yoga moves and right now we are lying down on the boards, floating in a calm lagoon that even at hightide is only chest high. In the distance we can hear the sounds of surf and sea birds on the horizon of Raratonga, the capital of the Cook Islands.
I let my legs relax, my arms loosen and my muscles relax, but no matter how politely Charlotte asks, I just can’t close my eyes. Closing my eyes would shut out the ring of islands that surround the lagoon; the distant waves breaking on an invisible reef; and the sharp peaks of the mountains at the heart of the main island. Shutting my eyes would take me back to yoga classes after work; a mind racing with to do lists and tension in my chest. Those end-of-day classes are the panadols of my life – helping me get through the mounds of emails, meetings, coffees, and nights out that make up my time. The past eight days on this island, however, have been a cure, not just another remedy. I have reset my priorities, calmed my mind and most importantly (let’s admit it) toned up my thighs…
Slumping off the plane a little over a week ago, my friends and I still wore the long-sleeved dark-coloured clothing of the city. We were searching for a holiday that wasn’t rushing from monument to monument, checking the guidebook on the way to see what else we should fit in. We also didn’t want a holiday where all we did was eat buffet food and down ice coffees by the side of a nondescript hotel-chain pool. So we chose the Cook Islands. Partly as there is a direct flight from Australia to Raratonga, and partly as we heard about a holiday that incorporated around five hours of stand up paddleboarding every day. Sun, sand and exercise? Yup, this nailed it.
Run by Cook Islander Charlotte, the stand up paddleboard lessons teach you the perfect SUP technique. On top of that, each lesson includes a full yoga class. Not only is it brilliant for your quads and glutes, but your core muscles work overtime when you’re trying to do a modified warrior pose on a moving board (while trying not to laugh as your friends’ attempts). It’s easier than it sounds though, and is completely doable for beginners, as my footy mate Andrew proved, well, between falling in that is, much to our amusement…
The structure of the holiday is pretty chilled to say the least, much like Charlotte. And between lessons you are free to do what you like. One day we rode the 32km around the island, another we hiked to the top of the highest mountain (which only takes a few hours) with Pa, a local that smelled of coconut oil. But the highlight, without doubt was those five hours on the water every day.
Each morning, sunscreen in hand, we’d squeeze into Charlotte’s mini van; hot thighs trying not to touch, warm wind blowing through half-open windows, and freshly picked coconuts stacked high. Driving around the island, looking for calm beaches; aqua water and shade, made the whole experience seem like those Corona TV ads: “From where you’d rather be”. Except we are actually there.
The Cook Islands are like the older, more independent sister of the South Pacific islands. There are no big hotel chains, no real package deals and not a lot of infrastructure. Sure, there’s the hourly bus around the main island of Raratonga, a couple of good bars, a few great restaurants, one very fun putt putt golf bar and café (trust me), and a couple of boat tours. But apart from that, you’re on your own. And therein lies the beauty of this place. It hasn’t let it’s prettiness go to its head. It’s still accessible without being fake.
But lying on my back floating with the current in the middle of Muri lagoon, I don’t think about the bars, cafes or boat tours. I don’t think at all. My mind rests in a way it hasn’t for a long, long time. I turn my head and look at my friend’s faces. Eyes closed. All signs of stress have gone; their skin is golden brown; glowing, healthy and there’s a hint of a smile.
I hear Charlotte’s voice again. “Let your worries flow away on the water, smell the salt air and breathe in the feeling of calm. We’re going to float for a little bit together; I will come around and keep your board to come from drifting off with the current.”
No, I think to myself. Don’t push me back, let me drift and see where I end up. I don’t want to put my city clothes on tomorrow to fly home. They are the armour I wear every day and the worries of my work are stitched into the fabric, weighing them down. No, I don’t want to put them on again just yet, I want drift on Muri lagoon for a little while longer…
SUP retreats in the Cook Islands run between July and September and you can book a six-night package, including accom, five days of SUP lessons, a massage, a dancing lesson, cross mountain hike and some meals, though Workout on Water. And while we have you here, why don’t you sign up to our newsletter and be the first to hear about fitness events and classes, travel ideas, discounts, competitions and more!