Is it important to work with a certified paddle board instructor?

People have asked if it is necessary to work with a certified paddle board instructor. Here are some questions and answers about what certification means and they should help you decide if it necessary for you.

certified paddleboard instructor

Is it important to work with a certified paddleboard instructor?

That depends on your goals, ability level and confidence.  There are many perfectly good instructors out there who have not gone through the certification process.  And there are many not so good instructors out there who would not make it through the certification process.

  • You know that certified sup instructors have met a series of criteria set forth by the certifying organization deeming them worthy of teaching the sport.
  • Those criteria include technical skills, teaching skills, and safety training.


What does certification actually mean?

Like so many other things, it varies by the program. There seem to be some common threads between the different certifications.

  • They promote consistency of techniques and teaching methods.
  • They have a strong focus on safety, and most require that you be CPR and Frist Aid certified.
  • They emphasize group management skills.
  • The instructors have completed comprehensive training,
  • Certified instructors have the backing of whichever organization they go through that believes in their abilities to teach effectively and to different people of different levels.


What are the different certifications and does it matter which one my instructor has?

Here are several groups offering certification to paddleboard instructors

  • American Canoe Association (ACA)
  • World Paddle Association (WPA)
  • Paddlefit (combining fitness with paddling)
  • Academy of SUP Instruction (ASI)
  • SUP Yoga certification


I can only speak personally about the ACA curriculum and process.  From my research I gather that they are all similar, though perhaps with varying degrees of comprehensiveness and credence.

certified paddle board instructor

Why did I choose American Canoe Association Certification?


  • Started over 130 years ago, the American Canoe Association has become the nation’s recognized leader in paddlesports instruction and education.
  • ACA certifies instructors in the sports of canoe, kayak, rafting, rescue and standup paddleboard.  There are 6,500 certified ACA instructors in the US.  These instructors account for serving over 800,000 people per year in ACA approved programs.
  • The ACA also has a rich tradition of stewardship and advocating for public policy including improved public access to waterways.
  • It is the largest national organization of its kind in terms of sanctioning, supporting, and producing paddlesports events with nearly 4,300 events each year, including upwards of 200 races.
  • It also serves as the voice of paddlers across the country promoting fun and responsible canoeing, kayaking, rafting and sup.


Why was it important for me to get certified?

  • I want to give our students a safe and fun experience on the water.
  • I want them to feel comfortable and confident and like they are accomplishing something.
  • Learning effective methods of teaching and new skills to teach students was very important to me.  Everyone learns differently and at a different pace and it is important to me to have to tools to talk to everyone on their own level without losing the rest of the group.
  • I also wanted to learn different methods for myself.  We never stop learning and it is great to get other perspectives and learn new ways of doing things.  It is important that we teach our students tried and true methods for paddling so that we don’t implant bad habits right from the beginning that become very hard to break later on.
  • I wanted the additional confidence that I gained from going through the process


What does the training consist of?

A 2 or 3 day on-water workshop and exam.

Level 1 certification consists of two days on flat or relatively calm open water.  You are tested on a variety of skills, teaching effectiveness, safety practices, and group management.  There are also many basic skills that you need to know from knot tying to various ways to carry a board.

Level 2 certification consists of 3 days, two on open water.  You need to demonstrate all of the Level 1 skills, plus additional strokes, leadership skills and group management in open water situations including boating channels and performing towing in open water conditions.

All in all, to get through Level 2 there are 9 pages of criteria to meet.  Many of these items overlap between Levels 1 and 2 so 9 pages is an overstatement.  But it gives you a glimpse of just how comprehensive the course is.

There are also Levels 3 and 4. They concentrate on surfing and whitewater paddleboarding.

certified paddleboard instructor

What’s the bottom line?

Being a relatively new sport, SUP is not highly regulated.  No one is quite sure where we fit in.  A paddleboard is not a boat. It is not a surfboard.  The US Coast Guard considers paddleboards to be vessels, which means that you need a personal floatation device (PFD) and whistle on board.  There is controversy over whether or not a PFD should be required since the board itself is a floatation device.  No one has really figured it out yet.  And while there are some organizations pushing for paddleboard specific rules, as of now, it’s not quite a kayak, it’s not quite a surfboard…

So in an up and coming industry, who regulates and sets standards for what is and is not ok in paddleboarding and more specifically in paddleboarding instruction?  And how do you know what you are getting when you get instruction from one of the many pop up shops and rental shacks?  With so many uncertainties in the industy, a certified instructor can take some of the guesswork out of it.  You know that you are working with someone who has proven his or her paddleboarding and teaching skills to a respected organization that now backs him.



Tags: paddle board safety, paddle board instructor, sup instructor, certified paddle board instructor, certified paddleboard instructor, aca paddle board instructor, paddle boarding safety,stand up paddle board safety

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