By Felicia LaLomia and Gary Ghayrat
At 7 am on a Friday morning, Alexandra Kefaliakos laid belly down on a long, white surfboard. She placed her hands underneath her shoulders, pushed her chest up and swiveled her feet with ease, coming to a standing position.
Kefaliakos was not in the water riding the waves. She was confined to a small 1,100 square feet studio in Bay Shore, getting in her workout. The surfboard balanced on three lined up fitness balls connected to a solid base. Bungee-like cords allowed the surfboard to rock back, forth and sideways, simulating the uncertainty of the ocean. Next to and behind her were five other women partaking in the 45 minute Surfset Build class.
Studios like Surfset Long Island are part of the national boutique fitness trend that focuses on group exercise and specializes in one or two fitness areas. The American College of Sports Medicine’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2019 ranked group fitness as the number two trend, up from number six in 2017. Chains like SoulCycle, Pure Barre and Orange Theory have opened up six, 14, and 8 locations respectively on Long Island.
“It’s only 45 minutes and it incorporates every muscle in your body,” Kefaliakos said. “I also like it because it’s a small studio so [there’s] no anxiety of a big gym. It’s very nice and intimate.”
Business owners across Long Island are taking advantage of the global market for health and wellness expected to reach $800 billion by 2021, according to Euromonitor International, by opening up their own versions offering unique workouts with an intimate community feel. In the last seven years, at least 11 boutique fitness studios have opened on Long Island, offering classes ranging from aerial yoga, rowing and cycling.
“The boutique fitness trend has been around for a little while,” Mary Beth Lessing, owner of Surfset Long Island, who opened her studio almost a year ago, said. “But now it’s just starting to catch on here on Long Island, so I’m hoping that just being the first Surfset, it’ll build up and grow.”
On a national level, SoulCycle, Orange Theory and Pure Barre are chains that have “a purist approach to fitness which may be rooted in fun, a specific form of fitness, a type of activity, or a combination rooted in an ethos that a limited group of consumers identify with,” Dr. Zachary Johnson, Assistant Business Professor at Adelphi University, said.
Long Island businesses such as Row45 in Albertson or Barre-tique in Port Jefferson Station are doing the same thing, but on a local scale.
“[Our] classes are capped out at 10 to 12 people,” Craig Hatchett, owner of Row45 in Albertson, said. “So it’s more, like you’re always getting a personal training, like a one on one. You’re getting more attention. I wanted to create something where the instructor can know everybody’s name in the class.”
From 2012 to 2015, traditional gym memberships grew by five percent, while membership to boutique studios grew by 70 percent, according to the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA).
“[Boutique fitness studios] differentiate themselves by focusing on what they may perceive as the unique needs of a limited market segment or niche,” Johnson said. “Instead of trying to mold their offering to the needs of multiple groups that might lead to a compromise, boutique firms can succeed by offering a high quality, but more limited experience calibrated to the needs of a niche market segment.”
Many fitness trends have come and gone in the past 14 years, Dr. Yuri Feito, one of the authors of the IHRSA study, said.
“The fitness industry is very fluid and changes constantly,” Feito said. “What matters is if people are seeing results with what they are doing. Whether Aerial yoga, Barre, Surfset, there is always going to be a market for it. How sustainable [it will be], from a business perspective, that’s a different story.”
Fitness Incentive in Babylon, which offers a number of boutique fitness classes, has been open since 1984 and manager Jourdan Brown has seen the growth of boutique studios flourish on Long Island.
“As much as there is a lot of lower price gyms popping up, I think that there is always going to be demand for people looking for a different level of attachment to their gym and a different experience,” she said. “And they are gonna be drawn to these boutique gyms.”