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Do I Need SUP Lessons? (Paddle Boarding For Beginners)

Do I need SUP lessons?

So, you want to try out stand up paddle boarding but don’t quite know how to get started? If you don’t have any experiences with related watersports, you may find yourself wondering whether or not you need SUP lessons.

Beginners do not have to take SUP lessons to get started with stand up paddle boarding. With the necessary theoretical background knowledge, anyone can learn the sport by themselves. The basics include getting on the board and keeping the balance, paddling and steering, as well as SUP safety.

The fact that you can learn how to stand up paddle board by yourself does not automatically mean that you shouldn’t take lessons, though. Some beginners may feel more comfortable to get started under professional supervision. In order to help you find out what’s best for you, we have listed all pros and cons of SUP lessons.

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Pros and Cons of SUP Lessons

The following overview lists all pros and cons of SUP lessons. For a better understanding of each point, we added a short explanation underneath.

It's safeHigher costs
It's funBig groups tend to be slow
You learn what gear is right for youProgress of students can vary
You learn from a professional
You get to explore new places
You may find a SUP buddy

PROs Explained

PROs of SUP Lessons

It’s safe

Safety first – this is especially important when you attempt stand up paddle boarding for the very first time. It is much safer to be surrounded by others – that way, you can keep an eye on each other. Going out by yourself withouth any experience can be seen as risky if you are not familiar with the conditions of your SUP spot.

It’s fun

Surrounded by other novices, you can give each other tips, get to know each other better and have a lot of fun while exploring this new watersport!

Gear is provided

Beginners who aren’t really sure if this watersport is for them most likely don’t have a board yet. Sure, you can go ahead and rent it from the nearest watersports center. But for just a little more money, you can get an experienced teacher on top of your gear.

You’ll learn what gear is right for you

Not only will you be fully kitted, you’ll also be practicing with the gear that’s perfect for your weight and size.

In colder conditions, you will also get a wetsuit. For beginners, there is a lot to learn about wetsuits. Use this opportunity to ask your SUP boarding instructor all the questions you may have regarding this, such as What is the best wetsuit for cold water swimming?, How tight should a wetsuit be? and What do you wear under a wetsuit?

The right wetsuit for stand up paddle boarding

You learn from a professional

This one is quite obvious. Instead of having to figure it out by yourself, you are taken care of by an experienced stand up paddle boarder who can tell you exactly what to do (and what not to).

It will most likely safe you some time and frustration on the water. Plus, it will reduce the amount of research that you have to do, as SUP lessons are usually packed with useful information on gear (if you are thinking of buying your first/ new SUP boarding equipment), safety, as well as useful tips and tricks for your practice.

You get to explore new places

We are not saying that you can’t explore nature by yourself. So, if you know the most beautiful spots for SUP sessions in your area, you can just ignore this argument.

However, lots of stand up paddle boarding beginners consider taking a lesson while traveling. It’s a great way to discover nature’s beauty at an unknown destination.

Depending on your location and the watersports company that you book your SUP lessons with, you will be able to spend a couple of hours on chrystal-clear, turquoise waters – and maybe even spot one or the other sea animal..

For some inspiration, check out this video:

You may find a SUP buddy

Just to clarify: by SUP buddy we mean an actual person who is keen to practice stand up paddle boarding with you, not the paddle board drink holder (even though we highly recommend to get one of those, too).

During your stand up paddle boarding lesson, you may meet someone you really get along with, who lives in your area and also wants to get into the watersport. Practicing together is more fun and safer.

Plus, you’ve found yourself a partner to explore all the perks of SUP boarding with – such as stand up paddle boarding in rain!

CONs Explained

CONs of stand up paddle boarding lessons

Higher costs

When you choose to take stand up paddle boarding lessons, you can expect higher costs, compared to just the equipment rental. Pricing can vary significantly and depends on the location of your SUP lessons, the number of participants, the length of the course and a couple of other factors.

It’s up to you to decide whether the money is worth the experience.

Big groups tend to be slow

If you decide to book a group lesson and end up with a larger number of participants, be prepared to practice patience. The bigger the class, the slower the process.

The reason for that is that the instructor has to meet everyone’s needs and focus on several beginners at the same time. Naturally, more questions will come up and waiting times may occur, while the teacher focuses on one individual student.

Progress can vary

Another characteristic of big groups is that not everyone makes progress at the same time. While beginner SUP boarding lessons are designed to take care of each student at their own pace, someone who is much faster or slower than the rest of the group could get bored or feel stressed/ pressured.

Please note that this is usually only the case in really big groups, which is why we recommend to look out for a small student-teacher-ratio.

If you feel more comfortable without other people in a group, consider taking private lessons.

What to Look For in Stand Up Paddle Boarding Lessons

For those of you who are convinced by the reasons why you should take stand up paddle boarding lessons, it’s time to choose a school. To make the most of your very first SUP experience, research the company before you book with them. Here’s what you should look out for:

what to look out for in SUP Lessons

Small Student-Teacher Ratio

As mentioned above, you want to make sure that the student-teacher-ratio is low. That means that you should book a class with a small number of participants. That way, the instructor will have enough time to focus on every single one of you, which allows you to learn as much as possible.

Good SUP Equipment

Check if the school of your choice has good SUP equipment.

Okay, but how the hell are you supposed to know what good stand up paddle boarding gear looks like?

Don’t worry, this is easier to figure out than it sounds. The main indicator is usually the amount of gear that a school has to offer. If they have a variety of different boards, you are very likely to find your perfect match.

Also, more and more schools focus on inflatable SUP boards to teach with, so ask about this, as well.

Read also: What Kite Size Do I Need? (KiteSize Chart)

Certified Instructors

Schools who only hire certified instructors often promote it on their website. There are several different certifications that can be aquired by teachers. One thing all courses have in common is that they put an emphasis on safety and train instructors in CPR/ First Aid.

Plus, you can be sure that teachers with certifications follow best practices.

One example for a certification training program in North America is the Professional Stand Up Paddle Association.

Great Communication

Communication is key. You’ve got questions that aren’t answered on the school’s website? Get in touch with them and fire away! If their responses make you feel comfortable (and they don’t take forever to answer), this could be the right school for you.

Great Reviews/ Recommendations

One of the best indicators whether or not a school is good, are reviews/ recommendations. If you have a friend who’s had a great experience with one particular company, that’s amazing and you should go for it, too. If not, a quick Google search usually does the job.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding For Beginners

Stand Up Paddle Boarding for beginners

Whether or not you decide to take a lesson is obviously completely up to you – and as we know now, learning from a professional surrounded by other keen beginners has its advantages.

However, just like with so many other things in life, practice makes perfect and you’ll only improve your stand up paddling skills by trial and error.

In case you are ready to figure it out by yourself, keep on reading. The following content will teach you everything you need to know before you can get started with stand up paddle boarding.

Location & Conditions

For your first attempt to stand up paddle board, you want to choose an easy location. Go out on a day with sunny weather and no wind. If you plan on practicing on the ocean, make sure that you head out during slack tide.

Slack tides occur shortly before and after high tide and low tide. The term describes the moment when the tide turns and changes direction. When this happens, the water is moving minimally. Therefore, slack tide provides ideal conditions for stand up paddle boarding beginners.

slack tide is best for Stand up paddle boarding beginners

SUP Safety

One of the first things that you will learn in any SUP lesson is safety. If you want to head out by yourself, it is crucial that you read up on the most important safety tips beforehand:

  • Check your equipment: Make sure your gear is in good condition. Ideally, you check it before you leave your house and then again before you get on the water. If you have an inflatable SUP board, make you it’s pumped up to the recommended PSI.
  • Check the forecast: Take your time to properly check the weather forecast. In order to understand what you are looking at, familiarise yourself with the different wind and tide conditions that are relevant for stand up paddle boarders. It is important that you always check the conditions for the entire day, not only for the time that you arrive.
  • Dress appropriately: Always dress to fall in.
  • Wear a PFD: Put on a Buoyancy Aid or Waist Belt PFD (Personal Floatation Device)
  • Put on a leash: Depending on the conditions, wear an akle leash or a quick release waist belt leash.
  • Communicate: Always (!) let someone know where you are, especially if you are a beginner and going out by yourself. Bring a communication device and schedule a call with a friend or family member after a certain amount of time. If you do get lost, call the Coastguard. We also recommend apps, such as what3words that help to locate you in case something goes wrong.

How to Get On Your Board

Okay, now let’s get to the practical parts. Getting on the board is the very first step that every stand up paddle boarding beginner has to take. There are two main ways to do that: From a the shore and from the water.

The latter is the most important. The reason for that is that you will have to get back on your board each time after falling in.

So, how does this work?

Getting on from the shore is the easier option. Walk into the water until you’re knee-deep (make sure that there is some room between the fin of your board and the ground), and get on from one side. Kneel on your board and keep your mass centered.

How to get on a SUP board

Once you’re in the water, you can either climb back on your board from the side or from the tail.

If you climb back on from the side, grab your carry handle. Pull yourself up with your arms and support this motion with a strong kick of the legs. Then, drag yourself onto the board in a lying position.

Alternatively, approach the board from the tail and push it under water, while sliding your body onto the board.

How to Stay On Your Board

When you have successfully made it onto your stand up paddle board (congratulations!), your main aim is to stay there. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done and don’t worry – falling into the water is completely normal and part of the process.

The more you practice, the easier it will be to keep your balance. Here’s how you manage to stay on top:

  • Position yourself with your feet about hip-width distance apart, and centered between the edges of the board.
  • Keep your toes pointed forward, your back straight and your knees slighly bent.
  • Instead of looking at your feet, find a spot on the horizon to focus on.

How to Paddle and Steer

Great, you’re making progress! Now, you just have to understand how you can move and turn.

To avoid common beginner mistakes, make sure that you hold your paddle correctly: The blade should angle forward from the shaft, toward the nose of the board. 

There are 3 basic strokes that will get you started as a beginner: the forward stroke, the reverse stroke and the sweep stroke.

Forward Stroke

This basic stroke allows you to move forward in the water. Reach the paddle about two feet forward, then plant it in the water and push the blade all the way under the surface. Move the paddle backwards through the water until it’s at your ankle, then pull it out and repeat the process. To go in a straight line, alternate strokes on either side of the board. 

The more vertical you keep the paddle, the straighter you will go.

Reverse Stroke

The reverse stroke can be used to slow down, stop, or turn. Reach back and plant the paddle near the tail of your board. Make sure it’s all the way under the surface of the water. Doing this stroke on your right will cause the nose of your board to turn to the right – and vice versa.

Sweep Stroke

If you want to turn your board while standing still, use the sweep stroke. To turn right, sweep the paddle away from the board from the nose to the tail by rotating your torso on your left side.

Check out the video below to get an overview of the 3 basic strokes.

If you have made it to this part of the article, you now have all the background knowledge you need to decide whether or not you should take SUP lessons. Again, everyone has a different approach to learning new things, and while stand up paddle boarding lessons are not necessary to get started, they can be incredibly helpful in the beginning.

Whatever you end up choosing – enjoy your very first SUP experience!

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