Do I need paddleboard lessons? This is a common question people ask when they first get into SUP. The answer is a definite yes! As a certified paddleboard instructor, I might be slightly biased but there is no better and safer way to learn the sport than with an introductory SUP lesson from a qualified instructor. Not only are paddleboard lessons easy and fun, you’ll walk away knowing the right techniques to make paddling easier and more fun than ever!

What to Expect From Your First Paddleboard Lesson

My first SUP lesson was back in 2014 (I can’t believe it’s been that long!). I had learned to surf in Hawaii and wanted to replicate that same feeling of being on a board in the water back home in Toronto. A local SUP school was offering discounted paddleboard lessons, so my friend and I signed up. It was such a great first SUP experience!

Even before hitting the water, the instructor asked about our previous water experience, gave us a brief intro to the equipment, ran us through some on-land drills, and then matched us up with our ideal boards. In the water, we reviewed the skills we leaned on-land and applied them on water. We began by safely finding our balance and paddling while kneeling, then eventually stood up on our boards. As we practiced our new SUP skills and marvelled at being able to stand on the water, the instructor gave us feedback and encouragement, made sure we had the proper paddle stroke, challenged us with yoga poses, and took pictures of us. 

Reflecting on my first paddleboard lesson really highlights the value that comes with taking a class. It was stress-free as all I needed to do was show up in my swimwear. The proper equipment was selected and provided, and the instructor told us what we needed to do and corrected our technique whenever necessary. I walked away learning the right way to SUP and couldn’t wait to try it again!

SUP instructor teaching a student

A good SUP instructor will be out with you on the water – photo by @stilez

What to Look For in a Beginner Paddleboard Lesson

Are you ready to book your first-time SUP lesson? Awesome! An internet search for “SUP lesson” or “paddleboard lessons” should bring up a list of available classes in your area. Here are some of the things you should look for when deciding which school to go with: 

  • Small instructor-to-student ratio. The smaller a class is, the more individual feedback you will receive. For instance, Paddle Canada suggests a class ratio of 1 teacher for every 6 participants. 
  • Certified instructors. Instructors should have a valid certification from a recognized association. In North America, some common certifications are from the International Surfing Association and the World Paddling Association. These certifications usually require that instructors also be CPR/First Aid or even Bronze Cross certified. 
  • Good equipment. A good SUP school will have a selection of gear in proper working order. Having a variety of boards means that students can get matched with their ideal board and can try out different boards, depending on their interest and abilities. Do keep in mind that there are some excellent paddleboarding instructors who teach independently and might not have the same access to gear that a SUP school will. Don’t overlook them! 
  • Recommendations and ratings. The best way to find a good instructor or school is word-of-mouth. Ask your friends or post for recommendations via social media. And beware of Google Reviews and other third-party review sites, which have no way of checking if the reviewers have actually taken a class with the instructor/school. 
  • Safety first. The first thing an instructor should do is make sure you are able to swim and ask you about any injuries or physical limitations. They should also have safety gear for each student, including a lifejacket/lifevest/PFD and leash.
  • Good communication. A good SUP school or instructor should be able to answer any questions you have about their lessons. Don’t be shy! If you can’t find the answer on their webpage or are unsure of which lesson to take, reach out to them. It’ll give you a sense of their level of professionalism. 


students taking a paddleboard lesson

Group classes are a fun way to learn to SUP – photo by @stilez

How to Prepare for First-Time Paddleboard Lessons 

After you’ve signed up for a class, you are good to go! Most SUP schools will let you know what you should bring with you and what to expect the day of. Common items include swimwear, a change of clothes, a towel, and sunscreen. They will also tell you where to meet and what to expect. I’ve included a few extra tips that are sometimes overlooked: 

  • Not all SUP schools have washrooms, changerooms, or storage lockers. Arrive with your swimwear already on and either leave your valuables locked in your car or bring a drybag so you can take them with you. Some schools offer drybags for rent. 
  • Leave your sunglasses at home! I know this sounds counterintuitive, but it’s easy for sunglasses to slip off and fall into the water. I’ve lost a couple of pairs over the years. If you have to wear glasses or sunnies, use a chain, strap, or Croakies to keep them secure.
  • Sandals are great to wear, as you can keep them on for the on-land portion and while carrying your board down to the water, which usually involves stepping on sand, grass or a dock, depending on the location of the lesson. Once it’s time to get on board, you can slip off your sandals and stow them on your board. 
  • Your first-time SUP lesson is a great opportunity to try out a SUP and figure out what you’d like and what would be ideal for you before you buy your first board. Ask the instructor for their recommendations.

SUP schools often have a variety of boards to choose from –@dogpatchpaddle

Get the Perfect Start to your SUP Journey

I have learned many things on YouTube, but learning to SUP isn’t one of them. While there are many excellent tutorials out there, covering everything from a kneeling paddle stroke to pivot turns, nothing beats in-person paddleboarding lessons. You’ll have a solid foundation on which to build your evolving SUP skills, setting you up for future success and a lifetime of SUP fun!

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About the Author: Jordan-na

Jordan-na Belle-Isle is a Toronto-based SUP instructor, lake surfer, and writer. Born in Montreal, she has been sporty her whole life and discovered stand-up paddleboarding in 2013. Since then, she has been active in the SUP scene, paddling and surfing the Great Lakes year-round. Jordan-na is a patient and encouraging instructor. She obtained her first SUP instructor certification in 2017 and has been teaching ever since. She has worked with Surf the Greats and Toronto Island SUP, running everything from group classes, to one-on-one training, to winter SUP safety clinics, to team-building events for clients and partners such as Google, Brown Girl Outdoor World, L’Oreal, Swim Drink Fish, and Ryerson University. She currently holds an Advanced SUP Instructor certification with Paddle Canada and is Bronze Cross certified with the Ontario Lifesaving Society. A recognizable face in the Great Lakes SUP and surf scene, her image has been used in a national campaign for Tourism Canada and she has been interviewed by several media outlets such as SUP Connect, Breakfast Television, Daily Hive News, and the Toronto Star. She was also the subject of a short documentary film titled ‘In Winter.’ A skilled writer with a masters degree from the University of Toronto, her work has appeared in Explore Magazine and she is a regular contributor to the Thurso Surf blog and Surf the Greats Journal. She is a co-organizer for Lake Surfistas, a grassroots group that connects, empowers, and educates women who surf and SUP the Great Lakes year-round.

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