As a SUP enthusiast, you might enjoy learning new techniques and levelling up your skill set. Maybe you’ve picked up a few tips from a friend, followed a how-to video on YouTube, or read our Paddleboard Lesson for Beginners series. But did you know you can go even further and get a SUP certification? There are many SUP certifications available worldwide. As someone who has completed numerous courses and holds a few accreditations, I highly recommend it for all you passionate paddlers out there. You’re never too young or too old to learn! Here is everything you need to know about how to get SUP certified.

SUP instructor guiding two students into the water

SUP courses emphasize safety before getting into the water

Different SUP Certifications

In the world of standup paddleboarding, there are dozens of courses and certifications available. While it might seem overwhelming, they can typically be divided into two categories: skills and instructor. A skills course attests that you know how to perform specific skills. An instructor course endorses you to teach specific skills. 

A skills course is more formal and thorough than a typical beginner lesson. If you’ve taken an intro to SUP lesson, you’ve learned how to paddleboard but may not necessarily hold a certification. A skills course usually runs at least half a day and will teach you a specific set of techniques relevant to the topic at hand. The instructor might give you handouts and resources, and test you before officially passing you for the course. The end goal is to learn, perform, and perfect a set of skills. 

An instructor certification is longer than a skills course and requires more out of its students. Participants are usually expected to have some SUP experience and/or have certain qualifications (such as the successful completion of a skills course). Typically, you’ll want to do at least a basic SUP skills course before going for an instructor course. An instructor course usually takes place over a weekend or more. Post-course practical teaching hours might also be a requirement to fulfill your certification. When you have successfully completed the requirements, you will be certified as an instructor and can start teach classes. 

SUP instructor showing students how to climb on their boards in the water

Learn the proper techniques, from mounting your board to paddling

What to Expect

Skills courses are pretty straightforward. They don’t usually have any prerequisites, unless you are going for a higher level course. The instructor will take you through the mechanics of the techniques used and knowledge needed for the particular certification. There is usually time to practice and receive feedback, perfecting the skills to the point you can do them on your own. They often focus on specializations, such as flat water paddling, river SUP, SUP surf, racing, touring, etc. 

As mentioned, instructor courses usually take place over a couple of days, typically a weekend. The course usually covers the following topics: history, theory, skills, pre-class preparation, safety, time management, etc. This can include group work and practice teaching. Of course, expect your skills to be tested. For example, Paddle Canada requires you to be able to perform at one level higher than you are teaching. So if you want to teach beginners, you should be able to perform at an intermediate level. Further to this, some certifications require a post-course test and/or a certain amount of teaching hours in order to become fully certified. Also, you are usually required to complete some sort of first aid or water safety training separate from the course. For instance, CPR + First Aid training was a prerequisite for Paddle Canada and Bronze Cross was required for the International Surf Association. 

SUP students paddling in a row

On-water practice and feedback are all part of a great SUP lesson

Where to Get Certified

Depending on your region, there are many organizations that offer SUP certifications. Most of them focus on offering instructor certification courses. These instructors are then qualified to offer skills courses either as a freelance instructor, or with a school or rental company.

If you are looking for a skills course, there are a few ways to do this. Approach your local SUP school and see what they offer. You can also visit the website of the associations below for their list of certified instructors to find one in your area, or even contact them directly for recommendations. 

Here is a list of some of the top international and regional SUP organizations that offer certifications. 

SUP instructor in the water with two students standing on their boards

No matter where you get certified, it’s sure to be a fun time!


Getting a SUP certification from an internationally recognized association gives you the flexibility to teach worldwide. However, it is important to note that even a certification from an international body may not be recognized in all regions, so it’s best to check before you sign up for a course. 

International Surfing Association

Founded in 1964, the International Surfing Association (ISA) is considered one of the top SUP organizations in the world. They were recently declared as the International Federation for SUP at the Olympic Level, so their certifications hold a certain amount of weight. They are hoping to bring SUP to the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The ISA offers three SUP instructor certifications (Flat Water, SUP Surf, and Open Water) and offer classes worldwide, both in-person and virtual. 

World Paddle Association

Established in 2010, the World Paddle Association (WPA) is a US-based organization dedicated to SUP. Their claim to fame was crowning the first SUP regional and world champs in 2011, as they are particularly focused on SUP racing. They run certifications in the US and worldwide and offer levels from Class 1 (teach a beginner SUP course) all the way to Master Class (hold specialized water safety training and can instruct at all levels). To take a WPA course, you must apply through their website. 


If you are planning to teach where you live, you might consider going with a regional organization. The main advantage is that their courses are more relevant to where you’ll be instructing. For instance, when I did my Paddle Canada certification, they were able to talk in depth about the local laws and special considerations for the cold climate here in Canada. Some of these certifications might also qualify you to teach in other regions, but it’s always best to check. 

USA- Professional Stand Up Paddle Association

The Professional Stand Up Paddle Association (PSUPA) is an American organization. They offer flat water and SUP yoga instructor certifications and emphasize the business side of being a SUP instructor. Their instructors teach skills for a number of SUP disciplines, including river, surf, downwind, camping, and Pilates/fitness. 

Canada – Paddle Canada

A not-for-profit founded in 1971, Paddle Canada (PC) oversees all paddling watersports in Canada, including SUP, canoe, and kayak. They offer a comprehensive SUP certification program that they have been running for 10 years. The program branches into three streams: Skills, Instructor, and Instructor Trainer. Within these streams, there are three disciplines you can specialize in: River, Touring, and Surf. 

United Kingdom – British Stand Up Paddle Association

The UK’s governing body for SUP is the British Stand Up Paddle Association (BSUPA). They are the go-to for anyone looking to get certified in that region. They have been around since 2007 and, as their name indicates, are dedicated solely to SUP. There are two levels of instructor certification available, plus Coach and Trainer. Level 2 has two disciplines which are taught separately: Tour/Race Instructor and SUP Surf Instructor. 

Europe – Verband Deutscher Wassersport Schulen

Verband Deutscher Wassersport Schulen (VDWS) translates to the Association of German Water Sports Schools. For SUP instructing, you can start out at the Assistant SUP level which is like an internship with a SUP school, where you learn the basics of running a SUP school. From there, you can choose to progress to being a SUP instructor with three levels of certifications. The highest level is split into Waves, River, SUP Yoga & Fitness, and Race/Paddling. 


Whether you decide to go for a skills certification or want to be an instructor, there is a SUP certification out there for you. If you have any questions or recommendations, let us know in the comments below. Happy learning! 

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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.


  1. saadd rehman December 16, 2021 at 1:18 am - Reply

    Too nice and well written article, much useful and beneficial. Keep posting the valued content like this !

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    • Matt G. December 31, 2021 at 12:21 am - Reply

      Thanks! Glad you’re enjoying it. Jordan-na really knows her stuff! Hit us up right here with further questions or to talk gear and paddling anytime.

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