Noodling at Sea! Time to Exercise and Get Moving!

A shout of, “Jumping Jacks,” causes long, bendy poles to dip and rise repeatedly

There’s a curious exercise craze sweeping the Caribbean. To observers, it appears that participants are merely playing in the water with pastel toys that bob and break the surface. They move about, sometimes in synchronized fashion but mostly with random turns and twists in response to loud commands. A shout of, “Jumping Jacks,” causes long, bendy poles to dip and rise repeatedly. “Push Aways,” and swimmers recline against the doughy pipe, feet pumping forcefully in wildly churned water.

This seemingly playful exercise, appropriately called Noodling, is serious work.

The hour long routine targets muscles with stretching and strengthening moves. Arms, core, legs, each working a series of moves with the net result of turning Olive Oyl into Popeye.  

The group take a break from noodling to pose for the paparazzi. Photo by Jan Hein
The group take a break from noodling to pose for the paparazzi. Photo by Jan Hein

Noodle groups happen where cruising sailors congregate. A VHF call summons a group that swells and shrinks in size along with the number of boats in the anchorage. Sometimes expats and locals join in and always there’s a coach to choreograph the well-planned routine. 

Noodling turns Olive Oyl into Popeye. Photo by Jan Hein
Noodling turns
Olive Oyl into Popeye. Photo by Jan Hein

The drills began when Willie Haskins sailed to Puerto Rico nearly a decade ago.

A few exercises learned in a pool were eventually reworked, expanded and soon grew to the contents of her book on the subject. Haskins is the perfect instructor having spent 29 years at the Florida International University in Miami training physical therapists. She recommends, “Start off easy with a warm up, work up and get more vigorous, then cool down with strengthening,” and always reminds, “if it hurts, don’t do it.” 

Her gentle voice guides noodlers through a series of names contributed by sailors: Pump the Bilge, Row Boat, Chicken Wings, and Paddle the Canoe. Always she watches to insure proper body mechanics. “I try to be pro-active, watching for how someone might get hurt doing an exercise.” 

There are variations addressed in the book and Haskins is always looking for ways to keep it fresh.

“Some exercises came by request to address sagging triceps or feet or whatever.” A former synchronized swimmer recently added some alluring leg kicks.

Willie Haskins leading the troops. Photo by Jan Hein
Willie Haskins leading the troops. Photo by Jan Hein

Near the end of the hour, noodlers get together for introductions and high fives. It’s a chatty group and it’s where lasting friendships are made and potlucks planned. With a teacher’s pride, Haskins joked, “It’s amazing how much they can noodle and talk at the same time.”

Noodling at Sea, or Staying Fit with Water Aerobics by Awilda Haskins, available on Kindle. All proceeds benefit Hands Across the Sea.