Paddleboarding just got simpler with the omission of one major element: water.
Los Angeles' marinas, canals and channels have long been hubs for paddleboarding activities, but on a weekday afternoon in January, boarders flocked to the back patio of a physical therapy studio in Westwood. About half a dozen of them lay face down on their boards, gently rocking side to side atop red brick, arms outstretched and flailing beside them. From afar, they looked like an array of beached insects.
They were doing a B-Board Workout, a new exercise created by French trainer Eric Vandendriessche. He’s the personality behind Aqua Stand Up, a method he taught in L.A. from 2016 to 2020 at the Westside Jewish Community Center and other locations. Aqua Stand Up had participants doing body-weight exercises on tethered paddleboards in a swimming pool, the instability of the water forcing them to use their core muscles. B-Board Workout is the class' next warmer, drier iteration: done on solid ground, but just as effective for the core.
During the 45-minute class, B-Boarders work out on an inflatable balance board that Vandendriessche custom-designed. Its curved bottom mimics the instability of being on the water. And it’s made to be shorter than a standard racing paddleboard so that it's easier to store and lighter to carry around.
The end goal? Develop strength while engaging in an especially novel workout.
“It’s not paddleboarding, per se, but inspired by paddleboarding, re-creating those movements but on the ground,” Vandendriessche said during an interview at the studio, a light-filled room, scattered with candy-colored dumbbells and resistance bands. “I wanted to help people not to be afraid to go on open water or to paddleboard. And I wanted to create something exciting and fun, really helping people to get in shape, improve their balance, use their core, while also working on flexibility.”
The day I visited, most class participants were trying B-Board Workout for the first time.
“I’d just like something different,” said Maël Mayet, a 36-year-old actor-model and personal trainer. “It’s always good to keep updated.”
Maja Damjanov, 38, was skeptical of B-Board at first. She works as a coordinator and manager at the physical therapy clinic that hosts the class, Studio Brava.
“At first I thought: ‘Oh my God, this is so L.A.! People just don’t know what to do anymore!'" she joked. “But I’m always looking for a new thing and actually, this completely makes sense. I’m older now, so I want to be healthy and I don’t want to stress my body. Plus, it’s fun.”
At the start of class we all stand on our boards, which are lined up in pairs on the narrow patio. Vandendriessche is up front demonstrating, as upbeat electronic music commingles with waves of swooshing traffic noise in the background. The resulting soundtrack is not unlike that of an L.A. beach.
“Come on, you got this,” Vandendriessche says as we mimic basic squats, mountain climbers, bird dogs and planks on the board. He demonstrates with a broad smile, his sinewy frame repeatedly squatting, then snapping back up, like a peppy jack-in-the-box.
Soon enough, the class is trembling. Some attendees' legs jiggle dramatically as they adjust to the board's movement.
“Oh, wow, can you feel it? This one’s for your thighs,” Vandendriessche says, punctuating his instructions with a melodious “da-nah!” in sync with the music. “Rock that boat!”
Vandendriessche, 48, grew up in southern France, in the coastal resort town of Biarritz. Sports were an integral part of his youth — he played basketball and tennis, boxed, skied and did taekwondo. He went on to earn a degree in sports management and spent more than two decades as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor in Europe.
Though Biarritz was a destination for water sports, Vandendriessche didn’t try paddleboarding until his early 30s. But when he did, he took to it instantly, paddling on rivers, lakes and the “crazy waves” of the Atlantic Ocean. His favorite spot was the narrow, tree-lined La Nive River, which snakes through Basque Country. Its gentle currents and leafy surroundings reminded him of a calm bayou, quiet but for the intermittent buzzing of insects and the splash of his paddle.
The idea for Aqua Stand Up came to Vandendriessche while he was paddleboarding in 2009.
“It was super relaxing and I felt my core, I felt everything,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘Oh, I would love to propose something to my clients.' So I brought my board into the swimming pool and invited some of my personal training clients to try it. The feedback was awesome.”
He devised the B-Board while teaching an Aqua Stand Up class in 2011. Vandendriessche was demonstrating the workout on a pool deck, with his students in the water, and noticed the wooden board he was using didn’t rock the way he wanted it to on the hard surface. He filed away the idea for a dry, grounded paddleboard and continued to teach Aqua Stand Up classes, eventually bringing the exercise to L.A. in 2016.
Then, in 2018, Vandendriessche dug up his notes and finally designed a board he could use on land. “I’m not an engineer, but I can draw,” he said.
The B-Board took about six months to build. Then Vandendriessche spent the next two years testing it out at private events and festivals, making tweaks to the workout and improving the board's design. After three iterations, he was finally satisfied.
When the pandemic hit, B-Board class attendance waned. But in early 2023, Vandendriessche met Studio Brava founder Cristina Popescu at a fitness convention in downtown L.A. Popescu was looking for a way to incorporate fitness classes into her physical therapy business. The two decided to partner.
“I always felt we had to bring to the community mindfulness and fitness and health in general, not just rehabilitation,” Popescu said. “I’m super excited about B-Board because it’s something new, and it involves a lot of proprioceptive mechanisms for balance. I tried it and I was tired after 10 minutes — and I’m active!”
The B-Board is the latest entry in a larger fitness trend of bringing board sports on land and indoors. Brushboarding, which employs a wave-like ramp made of spinning brushes on which participants can simulate surfing, has been around for more than a decade. But B-Boarding can be done on any hard surface and requires far less equipment.
Benefits of the B-Board Workout, according to Vandendriessche, include its accessibility and flexibility. The board can be inflated to varying degrees of firmness, making it more or less wobbly and difficult to balance on. Much like a Bosu ball, one side of the board is flat and the other is curved. When it's positioned flat side down, it’s more stable and easier to maneuver — better for wary first-timers. But unlike a round Bosu ball, users can lay their entire body on the board’s surface, allowing for more types of high- or low-impact exercises.
“So it’s for everyone, all ages, all fitness levels,” Vandendriessche said. "It’s especially good for developing the stabilizing muscles, the muscles that protect you from falling down.”
Vandendriessche estimates that participants can burn between 400 and 900 calories in a 45-minute class, based on data from his Apple Watch and the fitness tracker Myzone.
It's a "choose your own adventure" kind of exercise. There's a HIIT fitness version (B-Board Boost), a yoga version (B-Board Breathe) and a kids version (B-Board Bounce). Classes are $30 each. There are instructional videos online for people who own their own B-Board, which costs $450. But Studio Brava is the only location in L.A. offering in-person classes.
Back on Studio Brava's patio, our class winds down with some yoga. After the down dogs and child’s poses, we lie flat on our backs on the boards as Vandendriessche leads a slow, guided meditation.
“Close your eyes and imagine we are all together on the ocean,” he says, letting out a deep exhale. "Now rock the boat, as if you were on the water.” Participants' bodies loosen and wiggle slightly, as their boards sway side to side.
It was surprisingly relaxing. Even better? No one got seasick.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.