Get Out!

Outdoor exercise comes in all shapes and sizes

OUTDOOR SALSA DANCING: Eduardo Hernandez spins Elena Cortes at a Salsa by the Sea event.

Photograph by Gilbert J. Serrato

When the sun is shining and the days stretch longer, why sweat under florescent lights and breathe recycled air? On summer days, just say “no” to exercising at the gym. Instead, try one of these innovative outdoor activities to get moving and stretching in new, fun ways. Most of them cost less than a gym membership, and you’ll learn new skills and meet new people in the bargain.

A guy in baggy shorts and bare feet bounces his way across a rope strung between two trees, hung only inches above the lawn, while onlookers wait their turn. The art of balancing on a rope is an ancient sport, but this version—slacklining—is growing in popularity. A length of one-inch-wide, flat webbing is stretched just taut enough to allow for some “give”—like a perilously narrow trampoline. Simply walking across the slackline requires all major muscle groups to aid in balance and stabilization. Most first-timers do a lot of flailing and falling, but advanced “trickliners” do backflips, turns, and even yoga poses on the line.

Bay Area Slacklining Meetup group organizer James Welsh, who has been practicing the sport for 10 years, says that slacklining is a “present moment” practice. Strict mental focus is critical to maintaining balance, so slackliners have to leave their worries behind. Although “walking the line” is great exercise, the focus is not on calories burned. “The idea is how much fun you have enjoying the moment each time,” he says.

Slackline equipment is inexpensive, but finding a good location and installing a line safely takes practice. Welsh recommends joining a group of experienced slackliners to learn those skills. His meetup group gets together at various locations, including Monta Loma Park in Mountain View and on the Stanford campus in Palo Alto. To join them, visit their web page at

Disc Golf
Matthew Scott had to be talked into his first game of disc golf. With a background in snowboarding and other high-speed sports, Scott wasn’t impressed by a game that consists of walking around a course and chucking Frisbees into chain baskets mounted on poles. But after playing once, he was hooked.

“Disc golf has been my ticket to the world,” Scott says. In the 11 years since his first game, he has gone on to compete internationally and recently placed first at a disc golf event in New Zealand.

There are over 3,000 disc golf courses in the United States and 14 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Much like regular golf, courses vary in complexity and size, ranging from short courses like the 9-hole at San Jose’s Hellyer Park to the 27-hole mega-course at DeLaveaga Park in Santa Cruz.

The exercise in disc golf comes from walking the course (an 18-hole course might require a four-mile walk), as well as using eye-hand coordination and flexibility for an accurate Frisbee throw. A round of disc golf can be played solo or with friends and usually takes one to two hours.  Most courses are free to play, and the only equipment needed are special disc golf Frisbees that run between $8 and $20. You can play with just one, but most serious players own a quiver of discs.

To get started, Scott recommends getting a Frisbee and learning how to throw it. “Visualize your line,” he says, “and practice getting it to land where you want it to go.”

For more information, check out the website of the Professional Disc Golf Association or the San Francisco Disc Golf Club.

Outdoor Salsa Dancing
The salty sea breeze near the Santa Cruz Wharf carries the jumpy, rhythmic strains of salsa music from a dance party on the deck behind Ideal Bar and Grill. The dancers—young and old, beginners and experts—are smiling, spinning, shaking their hips, and having a good time.

Salsa By The Sea has been happening every Sunday since 2002. The event draws 60 to 100 people on warm summer weekends, but even in the cooler winter months, 30 or more committed locals keep the event hopping. Trace Farley, a co-organizer of the event, says, “We have a very friendly crowd.”

The group doesn’t offer dance classes, but there’s no need to feel like an awkward beginner, Farley says. “People will help you. People will ask you to dance. It isn’t about how good you are. It is about how much fun you are having.”

What about calorie expenditure? “When you are really going after it, salsa dancing is great exercise,” Farley says.

The free event is held on Sundays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the summer and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter. On July 29, Salsa By the Sea is holding a 10-year Anniversary Party from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., with four different DJs and dance performances by local dancers.

SUP Yoga
During shivasana, the final pose in most yoga classes, the student lays flat on his or her back, eyes closed, relaxing deeply. Now imagine shivasana while floating on a paddleboard in Vasona Lake in Los Gatos. The water rocks you, the sun warms your face, and birds sing in the distance.

Stand-up paddleboard or SUP yoga combines two popular pastimes: yoga and paddleboarding. Bay Area instructor Adam Sewell says the sport is growing fast. “I have colleagues who teach in Aruba,” he says, “and I'm looking to take it to Europe this year.”

Prior yoga experience is helpful but not a requirement. “It's challenging, but once you get the hang of being on the board, it’s a natural progression from [doing yoga] on the mat,” Sewell says.

Sewell has taught classes with participants who have neither practiced yoga nor paddled before. “Not only did they stay on the board, but they had a blast.”

Classes typically cost $14 to $20, or about the same as a traditional yoga class. SUP yoga classes are offered at Breathe Yoga in Los Gatos and Equinox Palo Alto. For Sewell’s classes, look for Adam Sewell Paddleboard Yoga on Facebook.

Early in the morning, Highway 17 commuters are treated to a view of long rowing shells cutting through the silky mist rising off Lexington Reservoir’s cool water. These Los Gatos Rowing Club members are getting an intensely aerobic workout that also develops muscular strength and endurance, improves flexibility, and burns calories. Many rowers are attracted to the sport because it is low-impact and non-weight bearing. 

The Los Gatos Rowing Club welcomes new members, even those who have never rowed before. Beginner classes in sweep rowing (one oar per rower) and sculling (two oars per rower) are offered throughout the year. The $275 class fee includes a three-month membership with access to the facility and boats (

Just down the hill, the Santa Cruz Rowing Club operates out of Santa Cruz Harbor in Monterey Bay. Kirsten Liske, a club member, says that open-water rowing in the bay offers the benefit of some surprising wildlife sightings.

“A peak experience for me was being able to row out during the two weeks that the humpbacks were off our coast. [We watched] them surface with their soft whale breaths yards away from our boats. It was truly magical,” she says.

The Santa Cruz Rowing Club offers beginner classes and low-cost boat rentals for its members. Annual membership is $100; classes cost $60 per person (

Meeting Up
Looking for a rowing partner? Not sure how to find other disc golfers near you? Want to go hiking, backpacking, bike riding, or do outdoor yoga with other like-minded people? Find companions and/or events for just about any sport on the website, an online networking community that facilitates offline social interaction.

Santa Cruz rower Kirsten Liske is a Meetup regular. She recommends searching for local groups who are doing the type of exercise you are interested in. Each group description should explain the level of effort required, or allow you to contact the organizer for more details. If you are nervous about meeting new people this way, bring a friend to your first event. But even if you go on your own, Liske says, it’s likely you will make new friends quickly.