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How to start paddleboarding

Are you a new owner of a stand-up paddleboard? (Yay, congrats!) 

As a certified SUP instructor, I love welcoming people into this fun and addictive water sport. I also love that I’ll get an onslaught of questions like, “What else do I need? Where do I go? What’s next?”

While those questions can be easily answered, I try to get to know the person I’m talking to and how they found SUP.

Usually, it’s people who got hooked after taking their first SUP class or trying it while on vacation. Or from people new to watersports, looking for an easy way to enjoy the water without having to carry a heavy canoe or kayak. 

Although SUP has always had a steady uptake, the pandemic has significantly increased the number of people getting their own board as stand-up paddleboarding easily keeps participants physically distanced from others. 

To help the ever-increasing population of new SUP owners out there, here are some tips that go deeper than “where do I paddle now?”:  

1. Get to Know Your Board and Gear

Whether your board is brand new or second-hand, lay it out at home and familiarize yourself with it. 

Are there bungee cords for the deck that need installation? Do you know where the leash attaches or how to install the fin? 

If it’s an inflatable board, try inflating it and make sure you know how to operate the pump and valve. 

Does your lifejacket properly fit you? If it’s an inflatable belt pack lifejacket, do you know how to use it if you needed to? 

Do you have all the gear that’s required? (Hint: See below).

How will you carry your stuff on board? Figuring out some of these essential pieces while you’re at home will help you maximize your time on water instead of figuring these things out on the beach or in the parking lot.  

2. Take a SUP Class from An Established SUP Company with Certified Instructors

While SUP is easy to pick up, it’s also easy to hold your paddle the wrong way (the most common mistake I see on the water, and sometimes they’ve been paddling for a while like that too!) Or doing something unsafe (e.g. not wearing a leash or the proper leash – and an instructor can explain why). 

Taking an introductory SUP class (or a refresher class for those with some SUP experience) can help with a bunch of things – learning or improving your paddle stroke, understanding the local weather conditions, safe practices, tips for taking care of your board, local spots to paddle, and more! 

Most SUP companies also offer BYOB (bring-your-own-board) prices if you have your own gear.
In terms of finding certified instructors, there are two internationally recognized, SUP-specific organizations: 

· International Surfing Association (ISA) – Founded in 1964, recognized by the International Olympic Committee as the world governing authority for surfing, SUP racing and surfing, and requires its SUP instructors to complete a Water Safety award (e.g. Bronze Cross, swift water rescue). 

· World Paddling Association (WPA) – Launched in 2010 to provide a global standard for competitive SUP events. 
Other organizations that offer SUP skills training and certifications include American Canoe Association (ACA) and Paddle Canada.  

As an ISA and WPA certified instructor, the training curriculum covers safe, practical, and effective instructional techniques to teach paddlers in lakes and beyond (especially when paddlers eventually explore paddling abroad). Shout out to my instructors (who are Olympic-level athletes and coaches!) Gillian Gibree for my WPA cert and Catherine Bruhwiler for ISA cert, and Janna Van Hoof from SUPGirlz, a host location for ISA SUP certifications in Canada. 

Don’t hesitate to ask what certifications the instructors at your local SUP company has! With the popularity and demand of SUP, some companies are more focused on offering rentals than providing safe and proper instruction. 

3. Learn About the Requirements and Responsibilities of Enjoying the Water

Taking a SUP class from an established SUP company may help you learn about local paddling regulations and safety tips. If there aren’t any SUP companies near you, check your municipality for resources on safely using your local waterways. 

For those paddling in Canada, Transport Canada has a Safe Boating Guide (the link will download a PDF) for human-powered watercraft, including SUPs. The guide outlines information like the minimum safety requirements, rules on the water, and more. I’m often asked, “What do I need to have with me on a SUP? Just a lifejacket?” I refer to page 16 of the Safe Boating Guide (Hint: it’s more than a lifejacket or PFD, and the offenses and fines are on page 57). 

4. Wondering Where to Go? Take It Slow.

Start local. Again, work with established SUP companies who may offer guided excursions and tips for popular paddling spots to explore and recommend places appropriate for your paddling level.

Keep in mind that “you don't know what you don't know.” By taking your time to do some research before you get out there, you can be more prepared and aware of the environment specific to the paddling spot. And by research, it means going beyond where to launch, weather conditions and hazards, and learning about the Indigenous territories you’ll be visiting. 
With the pandemic still ongoing, lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, or travel restrictions are in place for many regions. Travel responsibly when it is safe to do so by checking your local health officials. 

In Ontario, we are currently in lockdown, so I’ve been using this time to research and prep for paddling adventures.

5. Find a paddling community. 

Do a quick search online for local groups, either specifically stand-up paddleboarding or paddling in general. Here are some examples: 

· Diversify Whitewater, a group based out of Fort Collins, Colorado working towards making paddling more accessible for BIPOC + allies.

· Lake Surfistas, a community for women who surf, SUP, or SUP surf the Great Lakes. 

· PaddleAll, a project introduced by Canoe Kayak Canada, aimed at promoting participation in various paddling sports for people with disabilities. While there are clubs across Canada that participate in the PaddleAll project, contact the location you’re interested in to see if SUP is available. 

Communities can help with lessons or coaching, gear, and the sharing of paddling experiences. 

Also, check local paddling clubs (not just SUP-specific ones) to see if they host paddling socials, races or events (SUP4MS and Paddle 4 The Cure are two of our fave Ontario SUP fundraisers), which can also help you meet other SUP enthusiasts. 

I love getting more people into SUP, and it’s exciting watching this addictive and versatile sport grow. 

If you’re an experienced stand-up paddleboarder, what were some tips that helped you out when you started? Share em in the comments below. 

Safe and happy paddles! 

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