Jay Russell Shepherds a New Generation of Elite Paddleboard Racers

He’s a mentor to many.

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  • Written & photographed by
    Kat Monk

Anyone who considers himself or herself a South Bay local and spends time on the beach would recognize Jay Russell. An avid outdoorsman, you can almost always find him paddling, jogging, riding his bike, training people or getting his own workout.

Jay has worn countless hats during his 57 years on this planet, but one common thread is that they all involve fitness. A true waterman, he loves to be close to the ocean. With the help of some basic items from Home Depot, Jay has created some fun strength-training workouts on the beach. He might be passionate about fitness, recovery and clean eating, but that does not deter him from a good Mexican meal and a few beers.

Jay was an avid surfer while attending Mira Costa High School, but he also was versatile enough to play baseball. He ran cross-country at El Camino College and made it a few rounds at the University of Arkansas as a walk-on baseball player. He had a rude awakening, though, while playing intramural football at Arkansas when he blew his knee out and had his first reconstructive knee surgery.

Welcoming the opportunity to return to the beach, Jay competed in triathlons for a good portion of the 1980s. Due to his baseball background, he was not afraid of strength training … but triathletes were typically reluctant to work out in the gym. The only personal trainers around back then were for bodybuilders; due to Jay’s athletic versatility, he had the option to train a myriad of types of people.

“I was very much open-minded on how to work differently with different people,” shares Jay. Soon fellow triathletes started asking him for personal training assistance because he had discovered an untapped niche. Jay went on to get his credentials as a certified personal trainer, and a career was born.

A definite highlight was when Jay became Bruce Willis’ personal trainer during the Die Hard phase of Bruce’s career—living life at its premium on private jets and traveling the world. Despite how tempting it would be to continue with that lifestyle, being away from the beach for 10 months a year proved to be just too much for Jay. After a couple years of living the movie star life, he was excited to return to the Beach Cities.

A sport Jay happened into shortly after his return—with no intention of making it a lifetime journey—was paddleboarding. To this day paddleboarding is his true passion.

He competed in his first Catalina Classic in 1995 and has participated in the race every year since. The Catalina Classic is a grueling, 32-mile paddleboard race from Catalina to the Manhattan Beach Pier. Jay continues to run a paddling workout that also includes the next generation of elite paddlers.

“Jay was the person who got me into paddling,” shares Robert Parucha, one of the sport’s current elite paddlers. “A few friends and I were his escort boat team back in 2007; it was inspiring watching him. As soon as I had the opportunity and time to train, I called Jay to ask for advice. He hooked me up with someone to buy my first prone board and really took me under his wing that first year. He’s been such a huge advocate for the sport of paddling and continues to be.”


Overall Jay is a natural at everything that has to do with being active and frequently comes up with new and exciting ways to work out and keep moving. For example, he wraps a simple rope around a lifeguard tower for a battle rope workout, or he takes a 35-pound weight tied to a rope and pulls it through the sand while standing in place—working the back muscles, biceps, hamstrings, obliques and trapezius muscles.

Kim Castner, a friend and client of Jay’s, says, “His ever-changing exercise routines have kept me faithful to his early-morning class for over 15 years. Jay’s ability to create routines that I would never have the commitment to do on my own (sit-ups, bands, rope workouts) is the main attraction to his class for me.”

Jay is currently transitioning out of training and focusing more on athletic body recovery. “It is something that is dear to my heart because I was basically ignorant and stubborn and never thought I needed to take rests and recover,” he shares.

Over the years it has become apparent to him that recovering from a workout is just as important as the workout itself. Due partially to that stubbornness, Jay is about to have another knee replacement … but don’t count him out for long.

In light of his experiences, Jay has recently started a company called Activ Recovery Zone. Activ functions as a mobile unit with professional trainers who aid both individuals and teams in their athletic recovery. The trainers visit events, practices and games, taking recovery services to the fitness and health community. The company is also putting together programs to educate kids and their parents.

“Activ Recovery Zone is all Jay and his ambitious drive,” shares Activ’s head trainer Myles Hirayama. “This concept wasn’t just an overnight dream; it has been several years in the making and is now coming to fruition.”

Elite athletes typically get treatment from state-of-the-art equipment to help them recover from their workouts, events or practices, and Jay is bringing the same type of equipment to everyone in our community. In addition to staying fit himself, Jay has chosen to help others pursue their physical fitness dreams and is contributing by teaching our community all about the importance of athletic recovery.


Weekday itinerary:

I’m awake every day by 5 a.m., and during the week you’ll usually find me on the beach working with a group of people. This is usually followed by some water time. Overall I try to keep on a steady mealtime schedule. I feel this allows my energy level to stay consistent throughout the day. Due to my new business, Activ Recovery Zone, my daily routine has changed, and I’m devoting quite a bit of my time to getting it up and running. Quite often during these summer hours I’ll try to get down to the beach for either an evening soft-sand followed by a jump in the water or a run/paddle workout.

Daily nutrition:

For the most part I tend to eat fairly clean. It really isn’t that hard. Most of my meals are protein-based, and I’ve really concentrated on cutting back on my carbs and breads. One aspect of my diet that I’ve really focused on is staying hydrated.

Workout routine:

My workouts nowadays are very functional in nature, combining free weights, bodyweight exercises and plyometric movements. Probably the most fun I have on the beach working out are our run/paddle workouts we hold at 16th Street in Hermosa. These consist of using either a 12’ stock board or a 10’6” sprint board. You basically do sprints out to one of the buoys that the guards set out during the summer months, catch some bumps on the way in and then run down to the 19th Street tower and back. Short, fast legs, but they can kick your ass.

Guilty pleasure:

I do like my beer.

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