Are SUP Lessons Necessary?

Stand-up paddle (SUP) lessons might seem like overkill. After all, it couldn’t be that difficult to stand up on a board that is designed to remain buoyant under the weight of a person, and even small kids can be seen on stand-up paddle rigs paddling on their own. However, it is harder for some than you may think!

SUP lessons aren’t required, but they’re an excellent opportunity to get more familiar with stand-up paddling around people who are already experienced. SUP lessons help you learn about SUP safety and how water conditions affect paddling.

There are plenty of reasons why you might want to take SUP lessons either in your hometown or the next time you go on vacation. Read on to learn more about stand-up paddling and why taking lessons in the sport is a good idea. 

SUP Lessons Are Good for Safety

One significant advantage of taking SUP lessons rather than trying to learn how to manage the board alone is that it is much safer. This is especially true in marine and riverine environments where a paddler who has fallen off of their board may be swept away by the current or tossed by heavy surf. You can read about Carlo’s first paddle board lesson in his post. Or you can check out a few beginners YouTube videos before your first lesson.

Here are some of the reasons that SUP lessons help to increase a SUP paddler’s safety: 

  • Water conditions: SUP instructors can teach paddlers the water conditions and weather patterns are safe to paddle in and the ones that aren’t, which is especially important in any body of water with a strong current. Paddlers who are separated from their paddle may be at risk of being swept away or drowned if they get caught in dangerous waters. (Source: Paddling.com)
  • Safety in numbers: It’s best when you’re first learning how to use a SUP paddle to go paddling with several other people, as it’s easier to keep an eye on each other in larger numbers. It is dangerous to go out and try to learn how to steer any kind of watercraft when you’re alone if you’ve never done it before. It isn’t recommended for new SUP paddlers to go solo. 
    (Source: REI)
  • Spotting: Especially in areas where large apex predators like great whites are prowling the territory, SUP paddling with a group means more eyes on the water. This isn’t just a good idea for safety either—it’s easier for the whole group to spot wildlife when everybody can look in different directions at once. Many environmental factors can potentially affect a person’s ability to see dangers in the water. (Source: Shark Spotters)
  • Safety gear: A SUP instructor can let you know what safety gear you’re required to carry on a SUP board. Once you ride the SUP board out of designated areas, it becomes classified as watercraft, and you’re required to carry safety gear. Since the rules for what gear is required vary from state to state, a local instructor can tell you precisely what you need to avoid a run-in with the Coast Guard.
  • Experience: Going out SUP paddling with instructors that have plenty of experience on the water is much safer than going out by yourself, as even paddling in relatively calm waters can turn sideways quickly when you’re not sure what you’re doing. Do you trust yourself not to flip out if a shark starts circling you while you’re out on your board? An instructor can teach you the safest response to most emergencies you could potentially encounter on the water. 
  • No financial risk: Outside of physical safety, taking SUP lessons typically includes equipment rental, which means you can avoid investing in hundreds of dollars in equipment for a sport that you’re not entirely committed to yet. Since some people may not live near bodies of water, SUP lessons allow people to partake in the sport when they vacation. 

In many ways, taking SUP lessons before you decide to go all-in on the hobby is an excellent way to get your feet wet (so to speak). It’s the safest way to approach trying it out, especially if you’re nervous about going out your first time. 

SUP Lessons are Good for Socialization

Other than safety, another reason to take SUP lessons is that they give people a chance to socialize in a relaxing, cooperative environment. Unlike intermural sports, which can be tainted by the tension that accompanies competition, SUP paddling is a laid-back past-time. This makes it a suitable environment for casual conversation.

Not matter if you are trying to get onto the dating scene with someone that has similar interests, trying to find a way for your child to socialize in a relaxed athletic environment that still gets them outside, or just trying to meet other people your age in a fun social space, SUP paddling is a great way to get to know people. 

SUP lessons are also a great way to get to know people who are involved in SUP clubs, a way for casual paddlers to get even more involved in the sport on a social level. Socializing during SUP paddling not only makes the outing more fun, but it also naturally increases the intensity of the training that is performed during the SUP lesson. (Source: Paddle Examiner) You’re more likely to try harder and push yourself more with a team than you would on your own. 

If you’re interested in getting more into paddling as a sport, more advanced lessons also expose you to more advanced forms of paddling, such as: 

  • Flatwater (sightseeing) paddling
  • Whitewater paddling
  • Racing paddling
  • Tandem paddling

Eventually, you’ll figure out which subculture of SUP paddling fits you best and will hopefully gain some friends to go on excursions with, too. 

SUP Lessons are Good for Exploration

Another benefit of SUP lessons as opposed to going out paddling yourself is that SUP instructors are often able to take you to the very best places along the aquatic environment to spy wildlife, shell beds, and other interesting attractions. 

SUP instructors often end up paddling the same stretches of river and shoreline for years, allowing them to learn where dolphins like to hang out, where the best reefs are, or where you’re most likely to see river wildlife such as otters or beavers. 

If you’re not familiar with the local area—for example, you want to get on a SUP board while you’re on a tropical vacation—a SUP lesson is a great way to hit the highlights of the local area for sightseeing. It allows you to learn to paddle without having to worry about figuring out where you’re going. With a SUP instructor, you’re free to follow his or her lead, leaving you to sit back and enjoy the ride.

SUP Lessons are Good for Comfort

SUP lessons can give you much more confidence in the water than you would have paddling solo. Not only is it safer for you to learn the various techniques involved in SUP paddling under the watchful eyes of both instructors and peers, doing this activity in a group allows you to relax and grow comfortable with the equipment. 

Falling off your board on your own in the ocean all alone and having difficulty getting back up can be a terrifying experience that may turn you off of SUP paddling for the rest of your life. Once you know the basics that are taught in a SUP paddling lesson, you will know enough techniques that you won’t panic if you end up falling off your board. 

Not only does being more comfortable on your board enable you to have a more enjoyable time, but it also allows you to improve your techniques more quickly. It’s just an overall more positive experience to learn a new sport in a structured environment. 

SUP lessons also allow you to take advantage of a higher grade of equipment than you’re likely to want to invest in if you’ve never tried SUP paddling before. Choosing a SUP lesson at a shop that has high-quality equipment can ensure that your first explorations into paddling are as comfortable as possible.

SUP Lessons are Good for Improvement

Even if you already know a little bit about SUP paddling just from messing around with a SUP paddleboard you bought, you’re still capable of benefiting from professional instruction. 

Here are some of the things you can potentially learn that you may not be aware of if you’ve been teaching yourself how to paddle: 

  • Essential strokes: The types of strokes necessary for racing or marine SUP paddling are different than those that are used in flatwater paddling or whitewater. An excellent instructor will introduce you to a variety of different strokes that you can use depending on whatever situation you’re in. 
  • Turning techniques: Learning how to turn your SUP board efficiently is essential, especially if you get caught in a riptide or strong current and have to work against it to paddle back to shore. Turning is also one of the points where you’re likely to fall, so an instructor can teach you how to do it without losing your balance.  
  • Recovery techniques: Falling off the SUP board is one of the more dangerous things that can potentially happen to you, especially if you don’t have a board leash and end up losing contact with your board in deep or turbulent water. SUP instructors can teach you the safest and most efficient way to get back on your board quickly. 
  • Stance and body positioning: Body positioning used in paddling differs greatly depending on the water conditions and what you’re trying to accomplish, so an instructor can teach you the best techniques to avoid toppling over when you’re making adjustments to your stance. 
  • Techniques to improve balance: SUP paddling is a great way to improve your overall balance, and a SUP instructor can show you tips and tricks to maintain your balance better on the water, so you don’t spend so much of your time trying to climb back up. 

You may already know how to paddle to some degree or another just from practicing alone, but SUP lessons can teach paddlers the most efficient techniques to paddle with, allowing them to cut efficiently through even rough water. Becoming more proficient allows you to take on more advanced types of paddling, such as racing and whitewater. (Source: Black Project SUP)

What to Bring to SUP Lessons

No matter what kind of SUP lessons you plan on taking, there’s a few basic supplies you’ll need. Be sure to bring the following whenever you go to a SUP paddle lesson:

  • Sunglasses: The glare of the sun off the water out on the open ocean or river can make it difficult to see, so bring some polarized sunglasses to see where you’re going. Either pick up a floating lanyard from Amazon or buy brightly colored floating sunglasses. I’ve tossed 2 pairs of Maui Jim’s into a local river on my jet skis and sacrificed one pair of Oakleys in Cancun (I can’t stop picturing Nemo sporting a nice pair of X-Metals.)
  • Life jacket: In many places wearing a life jacket is a requirement of SUP paddling since it is classified as a watercraft, but even if it’s not the law, it’s still a good idea to have a life jacket or preserver with you on your SUP board in case of emergency. Without a life jacket, any accident that knocks you unconscious can potentially drown you.
  • Sunscreen: The open ocean will fry you like an egg in a skillet if you let it because sunlight reflecting off the surface of the water exposes you to UV rays twice. It’s a good idea to slather down liberally with sunscreen before you start your SUP lesson and reapply it if you need to throughout the day. A deck bag can be a fantastic way to haul everything you need. 
  • Whistle: An emergency whistle is an essential means of making sure that any passing boats see and hear you well before they drive upon you. Especially in busy waterways and channels, it’s important to remember that boats have limited visibility for SUP boards, especially if they are moving at high speed. Give boats plenty of warnings of where you are to avoid being run down. 
  • Flashlight: This will come in handy at night for visibility and also for signaling other members of your group. Waterproof flashlights used by snorkelers and divers work well. Remember they don’t float. You can recover a dropped light in shallow waters if it was on when you dropped it. You can also attach a large float to them.

(Source: Shoreline Lake)

In most SUP paddling lessons, a board and board leash are supplied equipment. However, you should always call ahead and verify that you don’t need to provide your equipment and that boards will be available during the lesson. 

The proper attire for SUP paddling will vary significantly on exactly where you’re going paddling. A yoga paddler in Florida in the summer may need nothing more than sunscreen and a hat, while paddlers who are learning in frigid water or during winter months may need a wetsuit to prevent exposure.

We have both a guide for buying winter gear for paddle boarding as well as a wetsuit buyer’s guide for scuba and snorkeling that should help with choices.

If you have any questions over what suitable attire for your SUP paddling lesson would be, just ask your instructor ahead of time. Most are happy to supply a list of necessary items so that you’re 100% ready to go when your lesson starts. 

Where to Get SUP Lessons

Do you want to learn how to paddle on a SUP board but don’t know where? There are plenty of places you can potentially find lessons for paddling. 

Here are some outlets you might want to check out in your search: 

  • Outdoor equipment shops: Shops that sell stand-up paddleboards, especially those located in regions and shoreline cities that are known for those kinds of watersports, often have connections to local lessons. Chances are the SUP equipment shop has a corkboard covered with offers of private SUP lessons or a clerk should be able to point you in the right direction. 
  • SUP rentals: If you’re in a tourist destination, chances are you can get affordable beginner SUP lessons through a SUP rental outlet. These lessons are usually geared towards beginners, but instructors running them typically know of more advanced lessons for those paddlers who already know the basics. 
  • Online: Searching your location and SUP lessons in an online search engine can usually generate several different options for SUP paddling lessons and outlets, allowing you to pick and choose at your leisure which program sounds best. Another advantage of online shopping for SUP lessons is that you can check out the customer reviews, too. 

SUP paddling is an increasingly popular tourist activity in a busy beach, river, and lake locations, so the more prominent the coastal area, the more likely you’ll run into a wide range of watercraft activities and rentals. 

SUP Lessons are Worth the Money


SUP lessons can be a great way to introduce yourself to the sport in a way that’s both fun and safe. While a bad experience on your own may prejudice you against paddling, being able to learn in a comfortable, social atmosphere is a much more positive way to be introduced to the hobby. 


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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