By Sarah Emily Gilbert
At the end of her emails, Jana Mars signs off with "make some waves." It's a fitting valediction for a woman whose career - and name are centered on water.
"I was born and raised in Brazil, in a large metropolitan city hundreds of miles from the coast,” says Mars. “Named after Janaina, the Goddess of the Ocean, I was destined to become a lover of all things deep and beautiful. As a child, I dreamed of mermaids, the waves, the beach, and the sand. The first time my feet touched the ocean, a love affair began.”
In 2014, Mars’ love affair with the sea culminated into her business, Aqua Vida. The northern New Jersey-based company is dedicated to wellness, environmental efforts, and conservation initiatives, all of which are rooted in their Stand Up Paddle classes throughout NJ, Philadelphia, and NYC.
Stand up paddle boarding (referred to by the acronym SUP) is an offshoot of surfing where an individual stands on a wide, long, and stable board as they propel themselves through the water with a tall paddle. Although ancient cultures from Africa to South America have done the activity for thousands of years, its modern resurgence has made it the fastest growing watersport in the world. In fact, Mars wasn’t exposed to the sport until 2009, when she spotted someone “walking on water” and quickly fell in love with the idea of SUP.
“At the time, the modern iteration of SUP was only a few years old, and there were no online how-to videos or information on how to hold the paddle and stand on the board,” Mars explains. “So, in many ways, you can say I’m a self-taught stand up paddle boarder. Because of this, I’ve been able to approach Aqua Vida from a place of personal experience as a true beginner, and that has translated into a successful run of teaching hundreds of first-time paddlers how to stand up and experience the magic.”
Since discovering SUP, Mars has become a Master SUP instructor with expertise in enclosed and open bodies of water, river paddling, downwind and distance paddling, floating classes, and SUP surfing. She’s also a certified SUP yoga instructor. In addition to offering HIIT workouts, floating meditation, SUP tours, and kids’ clinics, Mars’ company offers AquaFLOW™ where participants practice yoga while floating on their paddle boards.
To someone new to SUP, it might seem like an impossible task to combine balancing on a board while doing yoga, but Mars assures us that it’s easily learned. Aqua Vida has designed their classes to accommodate all levels and encourage participants to go at their own pace, following their intuition and using modifications. “Most of our clients are brand new to either yoga or SUP, and sometimes both,” says Mars. “Our bodies are masters at adapting, and just a few minutes into class you can feel your secondary balancing muscles activate to support your larger muscles, and your balance on the board becomes second nature.” She also notes the countless health benefits of the classes such as stabilization of both sides of the body as weight is distributed properly to maintain balance. It also strengthens the core and encourages a deeper level of focus and mindfulness.
Aqua Vida has instructed on waterways throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and in the summer, they run a full program on Farrington Lake in East Brunswick, Allamuchy State Park in Stanhope, and Philadelphia. The company also has a growing base at the Jersey Shore and was recently gifted a 30-foot sailboat that will serve as their headquarters as they travel to new waterfronts along the Northeast. From October to April, Aqua Vida holds classes in the indoor pools at Forrestal Village Fitness in Princeton, Drexel University, and Asphalt Green in New York City. Although the indoor facilities don’t allow participants to connect with nature in the same way as the outdoors, Mars has noticed that people often feel more comfortable challenging themselves and falling into a pool rather than a lake or river.
While Aqua Vida is rooted in SUP, Mars is quick to point out that it is a lifestyle more than anything else. In addition to offering fitness classes, teacher trainings, affiliate programs, and workshops, the company holds retreats and cleanup initiatives. After noticing the large amount of trash in the water they frequented, Mars’ mission for Aqua Vida became clear: to enjoy the beauty of the waterways and preserve them for generations to come. “The fabric of our company lies in our Seva mission,” explains Mars. “Seva is a yogic term for ‘selfless service’ and flows through every aspect of Aqua Vida.”
In 2015, Mars hosted Seva Nights, a floating class followed by a SUP cleanup of the Harbor at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia. It quickly became the company’s most popular event and has helped Aqua Vida remove over 2,000 pounds of trash from the water to date. The Seva mission continues during their yoga/SUP/surf retreats to tropical places like the Dominican Republic. The brand is also designing a line of sustainable and responsibly made SUP boards, accessories, and apparel. Additionally, Mars is launching an affiliate program aimed at helping women build their own business with the support of her company. As Mars explains, “Aqua Vida is moving to make impactful changes not only in individual lives, but the community we serve and the environment.”
It’s clear that Mars is, indeed, making waves; and they’re coming to our area...Classes and tours book quickly, so sign up soon to join Jana Mars and her Aqua Vida tribe at www.aquavida.com.