Hitmaker Finds It’s Never Too Late to Make Waves

The Wall Street Journal
What’s Your Workout?
June 21 2011
By Jen Murphy

As a younger man, Chris Blackwell never saw the point of exercising. “I noticed that people who were super fit in their teens and 20s tended to put on a lot of weight later in life. They got busy, reduced their exercise regimen and the weight followed.”

Ludovic Mouveau

Riding a jet ski for the first time lead to an epiphany for Chris Blackwell, left, pictured here with pro jet skier Ross Champion.

Mr. Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, the U.K.-based independent record company that recorded stars like Bob Marley and U2, skipped exercise for many years and instead focused on his diet, watching portions and avoiding sweets and fatty foods.

Mr. Blackwell, now 74, sold his stake in Island Records in 1989, and in the early ’90s, he created Island Outpost, a hotel and resort company that operates five properties in Jamaica.

At age 55, while in Jamaica, where his mother was born and where he now spends more than half the year, Mr. Blackwell had an exercise epiphany. The moment came—not in a gym, or even on land—but during his first time on a jet ski. He had discovered an activity he thoroughly enjoyed, but one that also gave him a workout.

“I know people say all you do is sit down, so what exercise could you possibly get?” he says, “but try riding a jet ski when the ocean is rough.”

Fast speeds combined with bumpy waters provide a cardiovascular workout, as Mr. Blackwell tries to control both the jet ski and his body while weaving through wakes and jumping the waves. He makes the feat more challenging by standing on the jet ski instead of sitting. Standing up requires Mr. Blackwell to engage his core, quads, hamstrings and upper body, almost as if he were riding a horse.

Nearly 20 years later, he is still often out on the jet ski in rough conditions. “What’s the point when it’s flat?” he says.

He often jet skis with his two sons, Chance, 10, and Chris, 18. “That’s one of my greatest joys,” he says. Over the years, he has picked up his pace on land, too: Mr. Blackwell has taken up speed walking. “At 60, I found myself moving a little slower. I said, ‘I am not going to let myself do that.’ Now I walk fast.”

Mr. Blackwell typically uses a jet ski from one of his resorts.

The Workout

Mr. Blackwell splits his time between England and Jamaica, exercising accordingly in each location. And no matter where he is in the world, he walks.

“I’m not super, super fit, but I’m pretty fit, and I love to walk,” says Mr. Blackwell. “And when I say I walk fast, I mean it. I go quite quickly and have to stop and wait for others to catch up.”

He doesn’t keep track of how many miles he walks a day. He doesn’t even pay attention to his footwear. “In Jamaica, I’m barefoot a lot of the time or in sandals,” he says.

He’s more concerned with getting in as many short bouts of walking as he can throughout the day, whether powering up a hill in Jamaica or walking around a foreign city when he is traveling for business. He gets in about a half dozen 15 to 20 minute speedy walks a day.

Mr. Blackwell travels every five to six weeks for a few weeks at a time. “New York is by far the best walking city. Paris is pretty good too,” he says. He finds the airport a good place for speed walking.

The one place he won’t walk is in a gym. “I don’t like the environment,” he says. “I find it totally ridiculous that people walk on these electrically powered machines.”

When he is at his home in the English countryside, Mr. Blackwell rides his road bike every day. One of his favorite routes takes 22 minutes each way. “It’s sort of perfectly planned because it goes on the regular road, then a path inside of a canal and then a country road.”

When he is in Jamaica and the waves kick up in the ocean, Mr. Blackwell heads out on his jet ski. “It’s not so much about speed out there as it is weaving in and out of the waves and over them,” he says.

“It’s really vigorous stuff. Sometimes I think I may have a heart attack out there,” he jokes. “The adrenaline is pumping so much that at times you feel you can hardly breathe.”

He follows his jet-ski rides with a swim, which he says is very important to balance out his session. “The jet ski is very jiggedy, jiggedy,” he says, referring to how bouncy the machine can get at high speeds. “The swim really stretches you out.” He swims breast stroke for about a mile.

The Diet

Mr. Blackwell says he has been a healthy eater nearly his entire life. His breakfast in Jamaica includes fruit and a dish consisting of poached eggs with callaloo, a leafy Caribbean green. Lunch is usually a Cobb or Caesar salad.

If Mr. Blackwell has a heartier lunch, perhaps fish, then he tries to have just soup for dinner. “I could eat soup every night,” he says. “But I entertain people a lot and they don’t want just soup.”

If he is eating dinner with friends or guests of his resort, he orders grilled fish. He tries to eat no later than 7 p.m. Mr. Blackwell mostly avoids sweets. “But when I heard that dark chocolate was good for you. that was the best news. Now I have a bit of that every now and again.”


Mr. Blackwell loves that his walking routine is cheap and portable. He doesn’t have gym fees and doesn’t require special shoes. His swim trunks don’t cost more than $70. A new jet ski typically can cost from $8,000 to $10,500. He uses a jet ski from one of his resorts in Jamaica.

Fitness Tip

“Once you decide to start moving faster you really just can’t help yourself. I swear by that. Just move faster in everything you do. It’s the easiest way to exercise.”