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As We See It

Surf your way to a ripped bod, without getting near the water

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A candid shot from the new SurfSet studio in Las Vegas. (The shark head on a stick is somewhere off-camera.)

It doesn’t get much better than surfer body. All those lean muscles, the washboard situation where beer guts and muffin tops typically lurk—maybe because it’s not practical for most people to get up in the morning and ride waves. Thanks to some ingenious entrepreneurs and Mark Cuban’s money via Shark Tank, it’s now possible to surf without the ocean. Picture a board anchored to a stand but with life-like action, sculpting your body through constant instability, engaging your core and countless tiny muscles from head to toe.

That’s SurfSet Fitness. Jason Laricchia says you have to at least see it live in order to appreciate how it works, and feeling it is on another level. He’s co-owner and also an instructor at the first Las Vegas outpost of SurfSet, which soft-opened about a month ago. From electronically remixed Beach Boys on the stereo to a motivator known as “shark head on a stick” for the kids’ classes, the studio has a great sense of fun mixed into its ass-kicking workouts. In anticipation of the grand opening later this month, Laricchia answered our questions about feeling the burn while paddling hard to catch an imaginary wave.

Do you have any experience with actual surfing? Is that how you ended up opening a SurfSet franchise? I surfed a little bit in college; I went to school in Hawaii. But I actually saw it on Shark Tank almost a year ago.

Can you explain how the boards work? Is the mechanics similar to a BOSU balance ball? It’s taking that concept and putting three doughnut-shaped balance balls underneath a modified surfboard strapped onto a stand. So when you’re standing on the board, no matter how you’re standing on it, what position you’re in, you’re always feeling this level of instability. There’s always a little bit of shake going on, so the whole time you’re on the board your core is engaged.

What are the options for classes? The Balance class uses yoga- and Pilates-style movements on the board, slow stretching, getting that balanced position and holding it. … Our Burn class is high-intensity cardio, so plyometrics, a lot of on-board/off-board calorie-burning stuff, super-fast-paced the entire time. … We also have a Build class, which is strength training, not so much weight training to get bigger but toning your muscles with soft kettlebells, resistance bands, a lot of repetitive motion. The Blend class is a combination of the previous three, the total body workout.

In the YouTube video I watched, there were actual surf simulations in SurfSet, too. You start off like you’re running down the beach, so you’re running next to the board on the side. We jump down and lay down flat on our stomachs, and we paddle out like we’re paddling through the waves. We get down in what looks like a downward dog position in yoga to go into a duck dive, just like if you were surfing, to dive under those waves that are breaking. We teach people how to pop up. So we go through the basic surf-simulation movements.

Could you take the class and then hit the water with some skills? The whole thinking behind the workout is that if you look at a surfer’s body it’s completely leaned down, tight, core strength is ridiculous, so why not have a workout that focuses on those same things, that uses real-world movements while you’re on the board? … It’s not going to teach you exactly how to surf, obviously. I mean there’s really no way to simulate being on water, but what it will do is, it will get your body in shape and prepared and develop those muscles that you would need to be able to surf. And so when you actually do get out there on the water, the transition will be a bit easier for you.

You teach Burn and Blend classes. Do students ever take spills off their boards? Everybody, at the very beginning of class, is a little tentative on the board. … We let them know that the board and the base are designed not to tip over. So you could stand completely on the edge of that board with all your weight on one side, and the board’s gonna be at and angle and it’s gonna be difficult for you to stay on it, but it’s not gonna flip the entire apparatus.

Yeah, but you’ve surfed before. The first time I got on the board I freaked out. ... After a couple classes you settle in and get used to it. We have people, pretty much by the end of the first class they’re standing up on one foot, kind of in a dancer’s pose, balancing in the middle of the board, when at the beginning of class with two feet they were having trouble staying up and staying centered. It’s a challenge but it’s fun, so it doesn’t feel like a workout.

Do trainers ever dress up like sharks to get students motivated? Trust me—I scour the Internet every day looking for any kind of shark stuff that I can get my hands on for decoration. And so far it’s little kids’ inflatable shark pool toys and stuff like that. … If I could find some life-size Jaws replica from Planet Hollywood that I could hang from our rafters I would love to do that, or a big shark head coming off the wall.

But no shark suit. (Laughs) It’s something I may do for the kids, throw on a little shark suit. … We play games already where I do have a little shark head on a stick, where I pretend like a shark’s coming up to their board and I have them doing bicycle kicks on the board, so it’s working their core but they’re just focusing on trying to kick the shark before he takes a bite out of their surfboard.

What music is played during these sweaty escapes? We have a couple classes that tend to stay more in the hip-hop range, but I’d say a majority of our classes are a pretty decent mix of EDM music, so a lot of trap music, stuff that has a good beat to it, definitely up-tempo. We have been able to find a couple Beach Boys electronic mixes, some Bob Marley, some reggae beach stuff in there. There are some DJs out there who’ve put some nice beats behind it.

Given that you’re just starting to blast the news out that you’re open, how has business been this past month? Word of mouth has been incredibly good for us. The clients that we’ve had come in, the return rate is 75 to 80 percent, and they come back and bring a friend. … It’s only going to get better, I think, from here. Seeing a picture of the board gets it across a little bit. I think seeing video or seeing it in person is what grabs people and makes them think, “Whoa, this is crazy.”

Has it changed your body? I was in shape before. I was working in one of the nightclubs in town as a busser, so I was getting my workouts in every night carrying bottles and ice buckets. But I would say that doing a couple classes a day, I’ve definitely leaned down, and I’m starting to get that surfer body back that I had in my early 20s. I can see my core tightening up and getting stronger. There’s actually definition. I wouldn’t say I have a full six-pack going yet, I’m probably at a two-and-a-half- or three-pack. I’ve probably lost about 5 pounds and just leaned down and toned up.

You also own the Birthday Suit Waxing Spa. Please tell me you’re not still bussing tables while running two businesses! I can’t complain about the nightclub business ’cause it definitely pays well, but I could not be running my two businesses and still be working at the club.

I have to ask, are you a fan of Point Break? We’re in the process of compiling a DVD that we can have playing constantly on one of the TV screens, and we want to throw in Point Break, North Shore, grab some of the surfing scenes and compile them all together so it’s playing in the background while you’re working out.

As a former surfer, what do you think of Patrick Swayze’s skills on a board? Did the surf scenes look authentic? As cheesy as the movie is now, back in the day it was pretty cool.

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Erin Ryan

Erin got her first newspaper job in 2002 thanks to a campfire story about Bigfoot. In her award-winning work for ...

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