A Certified Paddler: What Does it Mean, is it Worth it?

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Examining certifications across the paddling community

If you wanted a perfect example of how standup paddling is maturing, look no further than the idea of SUP certification. You may have encountered this with a rental business, advertising the instructor’s various credentials with various organizations. Or maybe you saw an advertisement in your Facebook feed. You may have wondered what this is. Do you need it? Is this a way to advance your skills? Or is just a waste of time?

Certification is different from a training class. You don’t take the certification to learn new skills — or at least many new skills. A reputable SUP certification will introduce you to a range of paddling skills, and they will judge by the end of the class whether you can do them or not. If you are judged by the end of the class to have the required expertise, you earn a certificate. Hence, you are “certified”. You have been evaluated by a certain organization and passed their line of competency. These programs are not designed to take inexperienced paddlers and make them experts. They’re designed to draw a line at a certain skill level and guarantee their graduates can cross it. You might learn new skills while taking the class, but that’s not the point.

Why get a certification?

So do you as a paddler need to be certified? If you’re a beginner the answer is no. Standup paddling isn’t driving a car. You don’t need a license to paddle a board. If you really want to beef up your skills, find a trainer or program that specializes in that. Certification is for paddlers who need to publicly demonstrate their competency. You are paying an organization to certify that you have a set of skills — which you should already have.

Being a certified paddler has merit. If you’re an instructor, it makes sense to hang out a shingle advertising your certificate. Of course anyone can teach another person to paddle a standup paddleboard, but when that becomes a business, the certifications mean something. Imagine you as a customer, choosing between two SUP instructors based on their websites. One has listed that she has two certifications from reputable organizations and the other lists none. Which instructor would you be more likely to pick? A tour leader might also find obtaining a certification helpful. If you’re taking a group of people out on the water, that certification might comfort a nervous customer. It needs be noted of course that lack of certification doesn’t mean an instructor isn’t skilled. Some instructors’ certification is their reputation, and that’s all they need. But not all of us are Dave Kalama, Danny Ching or Rob Casey. While we mere mortals may have some ability, a certification can make a difference. It demonstrates a level of proficiency, and that’s always going to be a good thing.

Certification is also important from a liability standpoint. Insurance companies are gambling their money on your business. Standup paddling has risks. Paddlers do drown from time to time. So if a company is going to take on your risk, it needs to know it’s dealing with skilled people. A business’s initial investment in certification will bring down insurance rates substantially. Many certification programs even partner with insurance companies to get their graduates better deals.

Recognized standup paddling certifications

For those interested in SUP certification, PaddleXaminer plans to review different programs and go over their strengths and weaknesses. When possible, we are going to interview or even do the certification courses. We will explore why such programs exist, which paddlers can benefit from them, and what might be the best program for you. Right now, the major recognized certification courses are:

  • PaddleFit
  • ACA (American Canoe Association)
  • WPA (World Paddle Association)
  • WSUPA (World Standup Paddle Association)
  • PSUPA (Professional Standup Paddle Association)
  • NSSIA (National Surf Schools and Instructors Association)
  • ASI (Academy of Surfing Instructors).

For a SUP yoga certification there is:

  • FloYo
  • ACA
  • Glide Paddleboard
  • JBYoga

This may not be a complete list. If you readers know of any other course, let PaddleXaminer know so we can add it. As the season progresses, look for profiles of many of these courses. Perhaps we can guide you towards the next step in your standup paddling career.


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Ian Berger
Ian Berger grew up in love with the ocean, so discovering stand up paddling was a bit of revelation. Once he bought his first paddleboard, he realized this was the sport for him. Ian Berger lives in Peekskill, NY with his wife Kirsten and three children. He teaches middle school English and drama, and also has a passion for writing, which he shares with his students. Every morning Ian wakes up to write — sometimes science fiction or comic Young Adult novels, sometimes plays, but very often about stand up paddling. The Hudson River is his home turf, and you can usually find him there when the weather is good.


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