AcroYoga to Speedminton: Four fresh fit trends

You have heard of badminton, how about speedminton?

In the world of fitness crazes, where people come up with creative new ways of staying fit faster than you can say "aerial yoga" or "hot ballet", there are a few trends that are gaining traction.

Life!Weekend rounds up four of these new activities - underwater rugby, land paddling, speedminton and AcroYoga.

Underwater rugby

Several sports have taken the plunge and gone underwater. Case in point: underwater spinning and underwater hockey. Now, one of the most challenging contact sports, rugby, also has a watery version.

Like its land counterpart, underwater rugby involves two teams of six trying to score a try on their opponent's side. The difference is: they are holding their breath and playing at a depth of between 3.5m and 5m of water, and the goal is a bucket cage fixed to the pool's floor.

Rugby in the Deep End from Through the Lens on Vimeo.

Meanwhile, six other players on each team are swimming at the surface ready to take the plunge whenever their teammates need to come up for air.

Underwater, players can be tackled from any direction, which can be disorientating for beginners. Because there is no verbal communication, teammates have to come up with alternative ways to work together, such as through sign language or following pre-established plans of attack.

Invented more than 50 years ago in Germany at a diving club, underwater rugby has spread worldwide. Engineer Khee Chia How, 30, discovered the sport during his university studies in Australia seven years ago.

Last year, he founded the First Asian Team Underwater Rugby. It has grown to 45 men and women, aged between 20 and 55, who train every Saturday at the Queenstown Swimming Complex. Beginners can try playing the game, paying $7 or $9 for gear.

The team, coached by Mr Khee, has competed internationally. Returning from the Pan Pacific Cup earlier this month in Brisbane, the male and female teams emerged third and second respectively in the Nationals League.

Mr Khee said: "This was our first tournament so the other teams thought we are this bunch of Asian jokers. But we surprised them."

Tertiary student Joyce Kwok, 22, who joined the team in late December, says: "It is totally unlike sports on land as you have to be aware of what is happening not just in front of you but above and below you too."

Unlike rugby, injuries are less common as the water acts as a cushion against attacks, notes entrepreneur Lim Wee Lit, 43, who is a team member.

"The all-direction element and holding one's breath underwater makes the sport all the more thrilling," he adds.

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Stand-up paddling at sea is an offshoot of surfing, involving standing on a surfboard and paddling the waters with a stick.

Now, you can do this on land with land-paddling, or street stand-up paddling.

Instead of a surfboard, you use a larger version of a skateboard called a longboard. To move, you "row" using a land paddle, which has a rubber bottom.

Available in different lengths, the special paddle is developed by American company Kahuna Creations in 2006, which manufactures surf, skate and longboards.

Local sports lifestyle company Outer Quadrant has been carrying the products since late 2013.

Its founder Azharudin Ismail, 42, says that the sport is slowly gaining traction, together with its watery cousin, stand-up paddling.

He has sold about 150 land paddles so far.

Prices for a land paddle start from $99, while a longboard costs at least $200.

Unlike stand-up paddling, which is restricted to the water, land paddling can be done anywhere with a smooth surface.

The equipment is also easily portable as some paddle sticks are adjustable.

Special education teacher Adrian Oh, 32, land-paddles on overseas trips.

"I used to backpack on foot before that, but with land paddling, it offers another view of the world," he says. "Cycling and longboarding are too mainstream nowadays."

Mr Oh has since land-paddled around cities in Cuba, Malaysia, Iceland and the Middle East at his own pace while "saving a lot on travel costs", as he does not need to take a bus or train.

Land paddling may get you a fair amount of stares and provides a more intense body workout than stand-up paddling in water.

Mr Noorazam Ismail, co-founder of Outer Quadrant, says: "Besides the legs, you use your core, arms, back and shoulder muscles. It's a pretty intense workout and you could easily burn 500 calories in half an hour."

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In speedminton, players use a small, lightweight version of a squash racket and a small, neon-coloured plastic shuttlecock known as a speeder. There is no net, so the shots can go as low as players like.

The competitive guidelines stipulate that each player must stand within a 5.5m by 5.5m court and 12.8m apart. In informal games, players can play in any open space, such as parks and beaches, as long as they mark out how far they want to stand apart.

The sport can even be played in the dark, thanks to the glow-in-the-dark speeders.

Speedminton, a conflation of the words speed and badminton, originated in Germany in 2002, and is popular in European countries including Germany, the Netherlands and Ukraine.

It landed in Singapore in late 2013 and has been steadily gaining traction. Equiphaus, which is the sole distributor and promoter of speedminton rackets, sold 1,000 of them last year.

A full set, which includes two rackets and two speeders, starts from $80.

Equiphaus' manager Donald Koh, 47, estimates that more than 3,000 people have played it here.

Fifteen schools - primary, secondary and tertiary - have also bought sets for their students to use. Mr Koh hopes that the sport becomes a co-curricular activity and players can represent Singapore at the ISBO Speedminton World Championships. This year, it is held in Germany in August.

He calls speedminton a "neutral racket sport".

"It allows a player with tennis skills to compete with another who has badminton skills. Both can tap on their own abilities to their advantage," he says.

One fan is self-professed racket fiend Jimmy Tan, 27, who is an operations manager. He plays speedminton at least twice a week and appreciates the flexibility of venue where it can be played.

He says: "You don't have to play it in a court like other racket sports. We have played speedminton at Singapore Sports Hub, Botanic Gardens and Sentosa."

Fellow speedminton fan and Republic Polytechnic student SenthilNathan Gnanasekaran, 23, likes the intensity of the workout. He says: "You start sweating while playing outdoors after five minutes."

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The clue is in the name. AcroYoga is a blend of yoga and acrobatics, and requires a group of two or three people to practise.

It can result in certain impressive-looking, Instagram-friendly poses, such as the Superman, where someone is "flying" in the air with his arms and legs spread out. His partner lies on the ground and supports him in the air using his legs on the other person's hips.

There are three main roles in AcroYoga: the base, flyer and spotter.

The base is the one on the bottom supporting the weight of the flyer, while the spotter acts as the assistant or coach to provide assistance for knotty movements.

Although no prior yoga knowledge is needed for this sport, you need to be strong to perform the trickier poses.

Like any other yoga form, it can be done anywhere from a bedroom to a random open spot in the city.

AcroYoga instructor Crystal Gui, 32, says that AcroYoga develops strength, stamina and improves communication with others.

She adds: "I have seen many couples foster better relationships when they communicate with each other during the practice. I have also witnessed the trust and mutual respect that are built."

AcroYoga was founded in 2003 in the United States, but in Singapore, it has been only within the past 1 1/2 years that interest has grown.

Last year, yoga-and-dance festival Soulscape had AcroYoga on the list of activities and more than 60 people participated in Sentosa.

Yoga studios offer AcroYoga workshops or classes on an irregular basis as there are few local AcroYoga instructors.

Instructors from various parts of the world will typically fly in to conduct the workshops.

Demand for the practice has been growing nonetheless.

Managing director of Sadhana Sanctuary yoga studio Yulia Kalach, 31, shares that her first AcroYoga workshops last year had a growing number of participants.

The one in November had 35, while the second in December had 60.

She adds that she often gets enquries from students about upcoming AcroYoga events and that she plans to hold more workshops this year.

Those curious to learn or just watch yogis bust out some astounding poses can attend informal free "jam" sessions held twice a week outside the Raffles Place MRT station exit just next to a wide grass patch. These sessions are conducted by AcroYoga enthusiasts and instructors are there to offer help.

For lawyer Sheryl Lee, 26, AcroYoga presents a greater challenge compared with other forms of yoga.

She says: "The social aspect of working with another person and performing acrobatic movements is something you don't experience in other forms of yoga.

"I like the challenge it presents and, at times, I surprise myself with the poses I can achieve - when they had initially seemed impossible."

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