Venetians shape up along the shore.

By Kim Hackett | Photography by Justin Fennell and Eric Wynn


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Top, hula hoopers along Nokomis Beach. Above: instructor Heather Kirkendall

Yoga classes on Venice Beach have forever ruined me for doing downward dog indoors. Why try to imagine warm sea breezes to relax when you can experience the real thing? I feel the same way about running. Early mornings, I often take our dogs, Piper and Bella, for runs—more like fast walking for me—on Brohard Beach; no way you’d ever catch me on a treadmill.

So when I saw instructor Heather Kirkendall and a dozen women on Nokomis Beach hula-hooping to Sam Cooke’s Twistin’ the Night Away, it hit me that I’m not alone in my seaside workouts—the beach has become the new gym.

In fact, I discovered, there are all sorts of exercise classes at Brohard, Venice, Nokomis and Siesta Key. There are classes in yoga, tai chi and Nia (a cardio workout that includes martial art), and instructors offer private kayaking and paddleboarding lessons (kind of like rowing while standing on a surfboard). There is even a yoga-paddleboard combo class.

And with millions in recent beach improvements countywide, the number of beachside competitive running and biking events increases every year—and so does the participation.

The Rev3 triathlon brings athletes worldwide to Venice beaches to competitively swim in the Gulf, bike and run. A record 10 beachside competitions are scheduled this year in Venice, including the YMCA April Fool 5K and the 13th Annual Sharky’s Ride the Beaches bike race in April. Siesta Key holds the Sandy Claws 5K every year—the longest area beach run. The athletes competing along the shore include preschoolers during the summer weekly one-mile fun runs at Brohard and Siesta Key beaches.

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Contenders in last year's Rev3 triathlon

With a vow to expand my beach workout repertoire, I decided to try the hula-hoop class, which Kirkendall calls “Peace, Love and Hoopiness.”

The beach is her prime studio, Kirkendall tells me, adding that she has been teaching for two years.

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Kirkendall motivates students with her "before" pictures, taken in her pre-workout days.

While I used to hula-hoop for hours when my age was in the single digits, the last time I picked up a hoop in the toy aisle at Walmart, I couldn’t keep it above my hips for a nanosecond. But surprisingly, the first time I give the larger customized hoop a spin, it miraculously keeps going. I’m ecstatic.

“I have a 99.9 percent success rate,” Kirkendall says about getting people to hula-hoop. “The problem is that people try those plastic ones for children. They don’t work for adults.”

During an hour class, we dance, grunt and sweat, trying to keep our hula-hoops in motion and above the hips while simultaneously doing squats or dancing to the beach and back—the women in my class tell me they call it the Penguin Walk, with good reason.

The studio climate this day is perfect for hooping—78 degrees, not too hot or cold, with a light breeze to absorb sweat and push the waves gently along the shore.

Kirkendall has a three-foot, battery-operated speaker and a killer playlist that includes Sting, Beyonce and the Greencards. She makes a new list for every class to mix things up.

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“This has opened a whole new world for me,” says Pamela Rickards, who is hooping next to me. She has been taking the class for about two months and says her core is stronger and leaner.  “I never have to talk myself into going to class. I’m inspired to be out on the beach.”

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Yoga instructor Elaine Hettema

The next day, I go to a yoga class on Nokomis Beach, joining 15 other women. Yoga instructor Elaine Hettema, who owns a studio in Nokomis, started teaching yoga on Nokomis Beach three years ago, when one of her clients asked her to bring her popular class outdoors.

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Elaine Hettema and some of her yoga students.

“It’s been great,” Hettema says. “It’s a gentler class than the one I do in the studio. We tune into the sounds of nature; it’s more about the environment, while the studio is more about alignment.”

My fellow yogi Keenie Bugenhagen, who lives on Casey Key, usually continues her workout after class ends. “I stay and meditate and walk on the beach,” Bugenhagen says.

The hour-long class includes classic yoga poses and is twice as long as the “free, but donations appreciated” classes I’ve taken with Elin Larsen at Venice Beach. Larsen’s class focuses on gentle stretching and balance and attracts people ranging from 9 to 90.

While stormy weather can sometimes put a damper on beachside exercising, the instructors at Nokomis, Venice and Siesta Key have the advantage of a pavilion. “We hoop rain or shine,” Kirkendall says. |||

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Paddleboarding builds strength and balance while providing priceless water views.


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Our balmy climate keeps exercisers on the beach all year long.


A Sampling of Fitness Fun.

Venice Beach  

Yoga by Elin

30 minutes

free (donations encouraged)

Monday-Friday, 8 a.m., 7 p.m.

Saturday, 8 a.m., 8:30 a.m.

Sunday, 8 a.m.

Paddleboarding lessons

(941) 408-9642


Nokomis Beach  

Moving Toward Stillness

beach yoga, 1 hour; $15 class/package rates; drop-ins welcome

Tuesday, 8 a.m.-9 a.m.

(941) 266-6962


Peace, Love and Hoopiness

hula hoop fitness

1 hour

$15 class/package rates; drop-ins welcome

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 9 a.m.

Wednesday, 6 p.m.


Brohard Beach

Nelda Barba Yoga 

(offered through Sky YMCA)

1 hour; rates vary

Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m.

Sign up at Sky YMCA, Venice

(941) 492-9622


Siesta Beach

Yoga on Siesta

Monday, Wednesday,

Friday, Saturday, 9 a.m.

(941) 320-6693


Nia on Siesta

Kathy Oravec

Tuesday, Thursday 9 a.m.

(941) 724-9719


Hoop Dance

Bonnie Brown

Thursday, 5:30 p.m.

(941) 404-8114


YMCA St. Patty’s Day 8K

Maxine Barritt Park

March 14

7 a.m.-11 a.m.

Sky YMCA, Venice

(941) 492-9622


Upcoming Beach Athletic Events. 

Venice Area Chamber

of Commerce

April Fool 5K

Maxine Barritt Park

March 29

7 a.m.-11 a.m.

John Ryan


13th Annual Sharky’s Ride

the Beaches


Maxine Barritt Park/

Manasota Beach Park

April 26

7 a.m.-11 a.m.

Venice Pier Group, Inc./

Marc Alton

Venice Area Fire

Department Auxiliary 5K

Maxine Barritt Park

June 20

7 a.m.-11 a.m.

Matt Tomer

Rev3 Triathlon

Swimming, cycling, running

Various venues

Nov. 15




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