The Working Waterfront

How islanders kept fit over the winter

Formal to informal activities, everything from volleyball to dance is offered

Kris Osgood
Posted 2019-05-17
Last Modified 2019-05-17

By Kris Osgood

In Maine, the winter months can be long, and that is especially true on the islands where there are fewer amenities than on the mainland. Keeping weight gain at bay is of particular concern when the weather is a hindrance to outdoor exercise. 

Several island communities combat this situation by offering a variety of indoor exercise opportunities. Two of the most popular activities during island winters are indoor basketball and volleyball. Several islands, including Vinalhaven, North Haven, and Swan’s, provide time in their school gyms for community members of all ages to come together to play at least once a week. 

Vinalhaven’s Samantha Thompson says the volleyball program she helps organize is quite casual, without an actual sponsor. One person makes sure to fill out a building use form at the school at the beginning of each winter, and the start date is spread by word-of-mouth. Days and times of play remain constant from year to year, and the group has recently created an online message group for those instances when beforehand communication is beneficial.

Because Vinalhaven School has so many basketball teams (varsity, bus line and elementary) vying for gym time during basketball season, adult activities must wait until basketball season is over, usually in mid-February. Anywhere from eight to 25 people might show up for volleyball on any given evening. 

“Attendance definitely fluctuates,” said Thompson. “Lots of times, because we are competing with other meetings, like the Lions Club and the fire department.”

Two islands, North Haven and Islesboro, offer casual dance opportunities for their communities. The Islesboro Community Center runs the Move to the Music program for islanders of all ages. For a donation, dancers are invited to bring their favorite music, dance in the Community Hall, and socialize with their neighbors.

Conversely, North Haven’s Dance Club, sponsored by Waterman’s Community Center, is not meant as a social activity. Dance Club takes place on the stage where lights are dimmed and music is played loudly. It’s a substance-free activity intended for adults, though ages 14 and up are welcome. However, there is one rule at Dance Club: participation is a must.

“We sing at the top of our lungs,” said Kat Alexander, programs director at Waterman’s. “It’s a liberating, empowering way to be on stage.”

Alexander started Dance Club at a time in her life when she felt a great need for physical outlet. 

“I have three young kids,” she said. “When they were really small I needed an outlet to move around a space greater than my living room. I was inspired by another dance program that I’ve done at Kripalu (a center for yoga and Health, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.) It’s an opportunity to get out of the head and into the body,” said Alexander, “to dance your own dance in a community of other dances.” It’s a challenge to be in a space with others, she added, without the urge to communicate.

Dance Club is a year-round event on North Haven, scheduled twice a month in the winter, and once a month in the summer. Winter months can bring out up to nine dancers, though Alexander notes, “It’s sometimes just me.”

One of the more unusual activities offered on the islands is Islesboro’s pickle ball program. According to Melissa Olson, a member of the island’s recreation committee, pickle ball is similar to tennis, but played on a smaller court with bigger paddles and a softball-sized ball similar to a wiffle ball, and is extremely popular on the island. While pickle ball is played on outdoor tennis courts in the summer, it is played in the school gym during the winter and is scheduled three evenings per week, with around 12 people participating each evening.

Participants are so enthusiastic that they are willing to lay tape lines on the floor and take them up again, over and over throughout the winter for the opportunity to play.

Impy Hayden is an Islesboro pickle ball enthusiast. 

“The cool thing about this is it’s for all ages and they all play together,” said Hayden. “It’s good exercise and it’s usually a lot of laughs. It’s fun to play with different ages and get to know them.” Also, “it’s easier on the body than tennis,” notes Hayden.