The Trainer: Rebecca Frey
In Rebecca Frey’s videos, fitness workout routines look strenuous, but they don’t look difficult to understand. In each one, the personal trainer takes one workout concept – say, shoulder mobility, or exercises using a kicking motion – and breaks it down into understandable steps you don’t need expertise or crucially, lots of fancy gym equipment to put into use.
“Every time I make a post I’m always thinking about the people who are going to be working out at home, because about 80 percent of the people are doing that,” Frey says of the videos she posts to her RebeL Fitness Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Often, that means getting creative about what counts as workout equipment. Early on in the pandemic, there was an equipment shortage as people rushed to stock home gyms. That has now subsided, but Frey still hears from many who haven’t rushed back to the gym and are looking to stay in shape at home. So she sometimes makes videos where everyday items double as weights. In one video, she lifts several heavy texbooks.
“The more creative you can get, the better,” she says. “I was out in a situation where I didn’t have a whole gym … and everybody else had that same problem as well.”
Frey’s online workouts also sometimes take advantage of the urban landscape – and Fort Lauderdale’s outdoor workout-friendly weather. In one video, she does a Rocky-style run up the steps that lead up to the Broward Center of the Performing Arts from the Riverwalk. Like many locals, Frey’s a transplanted northerner – in her case, a Michigan native.
“Fort Lauderdale is an absolutely beautiful place,” she says. “I love this city. So you might as well put in a great, creative workout and show off this city as well.”
Her favorite outdoor workout spaces include a couple obvious choices, and one that’s less so.
“I really like anywhere that’s by the water, for sure,” she says. “The beach is going to be my number one because the sand is a great tool; working against the sand is brutal.”
The lines in the ground at Holiday Park’s artificial turf football and soccer fields are useful for sprints. And for her boot camp class, the expansive, recently redesigned space under the Las Olas Bridge works nicely, especially when rain rolls in. There’s room for sprints and running drills, and bicycle racks can be used for wrapping resistance bands around.
That’s not to say a shift to non-gym-based fitness has always been easy. For her own workouts, Frey’s always enjoyed lifting heavy weights and having diverse workout options. That was a little bit of a struggle at first, she says, but she researched various workout options and was reminded that “there are so many ways to move the body and do exercise.”
One tip she offers: if you don’t have lots of heavy weights, add resistance by slowing things down. When she tells clients to do push-ups, the instinct is often to bang them out as quickly as possible. But a push-up where you lower yourself in four seconds, hold at the bottom for two and then come up – that added time makes one push-up so much harder.
“That’s a totally different metabolic way of approaching it,” she says.
“People are finding out more and more about the human body every day. There’s no one way to work out the body.”
That science-based approach is what Frey tries to get across in her videos. Not all online workout information is equal, she says.
“There’s so much misinformation out there and there’s so many fads pulling people in different directions,” she says. If a workout or piece of equipment is billed as the one and only thing you need, be wary. Every body is different, and it’s always good to mix in different elements in a workout routine.
“Everyone’s body biomechanics are totally different,” Frey says. “The more dynamic you keep your workout, the better your body is going to respond.”
The Paddleboarder: Natasha Baker Williams
Natasha Baker Williams did not take up stand-up paddleboarding with a career in it in mind. She first tried the popular water sport a little more than half a decade ago. She loved it – but still saw it as just something fun for her.
“I always loved being on the water – took my first lesson and was hooked. Bought my first board about a month later,” she says. “Needing to decompress, I turned to paddleboarding – a mental health break.”
Accompanying her on these mental health breaks around the canals of the Las Olas Isles area was her corgi, Mr. Beaches, who would perch on the board while she paddled. Eventually, the pair became a familiar sight. People would chat or ask to take their picture.
Then a friend booked an AirB&B and received an email from the company about things to do in the area. The friend suggested that paddleboard tours could be an “AirB&B experience.” Williams was skeptical at first, but decided to have a go anyway. She applied to Air B&B and was accepted just in time for spring break three years ago, and SUP PUP Paddleboard was born.
“It went really well that first week of spring break,” she says. “By that summer, I decided to take the leap and do it full time.”
The business was overwhelmingly tourist-based until the spring. Then came the shift.
“Definitely, tourists were 90 percent of my business,” she says. “I would give (a tour to) the occasional friend of a friend who wanted to do something different as far as locals went. That literally was my business until the pandemic hit. This summer I saw a really, really, really big shift. The local community I did have, they were reaching out to me saying we really need something to do, (we) need to get out on the water. Now it’s 90 percent locals and 10 percent tourists. It was a sharp shift. I also went from doing the tours to people just wanting to rent the boards and go out themselves.
“It’s been amazing because they tell a friend and their friends tell their friends and they see us on Instagram; the pictures look amazing. It’s word of mouth.”
Williams believes more and more people are attracted to a sport that offers both a physical workout and mental well-being.
“Being on the water, being that close to the water on a paddleboard, is therapeutic,” she says. “There’s something about being that close to the water; it’s amazing. It’s a low-impact workout too. I get a lot of people saying that it’s really therapeutic out there, they can escape, you’re with nature. Even if you’re local and it’s right in your backyard, we often overlook it.”
For Williams, the water has always felt like home. It’s only been in recent years that it’s also become where she makes a living.
“I’ve always considered myself a mermaid,” she says. “In my group, I’m the Black mermaid.”
The Cyclist: K Sakai
It’s not necessarily hard to find cyclists around Fort Lauderdale. Most days, Lycra-clad folks on Treks and Cannondales are in ready supply on backstreets or main roads such as A1A. You can often find them on the large and growing number of green cycle lanes around Fort Lauderdale and South Florida. There are maps and tools to help plan cycle-lane journeys from Parkland to Hallandale Beach, if you’re feeling ambitious.
Bicycling is also one of those activities that has seen a spike during the pandemic; according to research from the NPD Group’s retail tracking arm, in the early days of the pandemic alone, adult bicycle sales increased by 121 percent.
For many riders, the solitary nature of the sport might be the appeal, especially in times of social distancing. But others might want coaching, or to meet other people who share in their new pastime. For them, there are cycling clubs.
For one of the people behind one local cycling club, the goal is to provide something of a throwback. K Sakai, president of the Little Seamstress Cycling Club (the name comes from the Oakland Park business that is the club’s sponsor), is an experienced competitive cyclist who first got seriously into the sport in college. But when he was considering clubs, he wanted to have something that met different kinds of riders where they were.
“I use racing as a tangible goal because everyone wants to go fast,” Sakai says. “But many of my riders have other sights such as weight loss, being able to keep up with neighbor Bob etc. And we talk about it and address how we can achieve these goals in a sane manner.”
That might sound fairly straightforward, but it’s not always the way cycling teams operate, he says.
“Back in the day, cycling clubs were the ‘one stop shop’ – it’s how people learned how to ride a bike,” he says. “The clubs had the older cyclists who knew everything, the local bike shop sponsor that could help you and the racers who would mentor you. The paradigm has shifted to individuals trying to learn everything by themselves. It doesn’t take much to realize the problem with this.”
Somewhere along the line, he says, “racing teams” also split from “sports clubs.” The latter is a friendly, social place that helps people develop skills but isn’t as focused on elite competition. The former is all about competing but not necessarily development or anything else that a club might do. With Little Seamstress, Sakai wants a club that offers a competitive side for riders like him – but that also offers more than that. It’s important for the club to be welcoming to all – within reason during these times.
“We use USA Cycling’s (COVID) guidelines to make sure we limit risk to our club members,” he says. “Some of our ‘group’ rides are closed off from riders outside our social bubble, we work on individual efforts, and we’ve stopped other rides because we felt the risk was too high.”
That said, Sakai feels it’s important to offer an experience that’s welcoming to all levels. And while it’s easier to ride regularly in an area with a year-round outdoor season, he says that’s not the biggest thing when it comes to new riders getting into the sport.
“Well, it’s always great to be able to ride 365 days a year – and with the technological advantages with bicycle lights, 24 hours a day,” he says. “But, taking that first step out – I don’t think it’s necessarily a question of experience or our beautiful weather. It’s more something that comes from within, or maybe a friend to help get you out the door. I’m really not sure what the initial impetus is in all honesty because by the time I see someone on the road, they’ve already committed to coming out. We just provide the framework to help them with their goals.”
The Skateboarder: Blair Hess
When Blair Hess started skateboarding, it was a way for kids to rebel from their parents. Now, it’s a sport a kid might do with their parents.
“When I started, I started late,” he says. “I started 16, 17, 18. You did that to get away from your parents. Skateboarding was looked at differently than it is now. Now it’s in the Olympics.”
Hess won’t be in Tokyo next summer, but in Fort Lauderdale skateboarding circles, his name means something. A well-known fixture at popular skate spots, he’s worked over the years at several of the more popular skate shops and businesses. An artist, he also paints original designs on skate decks.
The sport he loves looks a lot different today than it did when he got into it more than 30 years ago. When skateboarding makes its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games that were rescheduled from last summer to next because of the pandemic, it will be following a road – or a ramp – mapped out by events like the skateboard-dominant X Games and people like Tony Hawk, the skateboarder who through media appearances and video games helped bring the sport to the mainstream.
“In my high school there was only like three people, four people that skateboarded, and you were made fun of for being a skateboarder. Tony Hawk brought it to the masses; he helped make skateboarding grow.
“Skateboarding is definitely accepted more,” he says. “And more families are coming together.”
Recently, skateboarding has also been shown to have quantifiably positive effects, including on mental health. A groundbreaking study released last year by the University of Southern California said that while skateboarders are still sometimes viewed as deviants or rule-breakers, skateboarding helps teenagers relieve stress while building a strong sense of community. A sport where a difficult trick comes only after hours and hours of practice also builds resilience in young people, while feeling the skating community to be a more judgement-free place.
“I’ve seen it personally with people,” Hess says. “Skateboarding used to get this bad rap. Now people are realizing ‘Oh, you can exercise? You can help prevent a lot of mental health problems?’”
And it’s something, Hess stresses, that you can do anywhere. There are public spaces such as the Weston Skatepark, and there are private facilities such as the indoor Ramp48 in Fort Lauderdale. Hess loves the parks – he’ll get in the car and drive hours for a good one – but he also thinks it’s important to remember one of the best things about skateboarding. It’s something you can do wherever there’s pavement.
“I tend to skate all kinds of different things; it depends on the mood I’m in,” he says. “A lot of kids go to Miami. That’s where everybody goes because the streets are really good. The architecture, the ledges, the benches – there are so many favorite spots in Miami.”
That said, if you’re in Fort Lauderdale, you don’t have to head south 30 miles to find good skateboarding. You don’t even have to leave your neighborhood.
“There’s the simple fact that you can go just skate a curb,” Hess says. “You can just go roll around, feel the air hit your face. The best thing is skating a curb; you can go around your neighborhood and find a curb. That’s the freedom of skateboarding.”