Tony Bain SUP knowledge – where to get it (knowledge that is!)

bsupa-colourWords and pics: Tony Bain

Knowledge is power, so the saying goes. Without it we’d be nothing. Stand up paddling is perceived initially to be easy; a sport that anyone can get involved with and do straight off the bat. While this may be true to a certain extent there’s still plenty of learning that all paddlers go through. Having someone experienced pass this info on is only a good thing, and a quicker way to paddling bliss.

There are a few (main) accredited SUP learning institutions operating in the UK: ASI, WSA, BSUPA and the BCU. They all provide accredited teaching for the paddler who wants to have access to something structured. All the programs offer a selection of lessons with most delivering start/beginner qualifications, flat water (enclosed) and open water.

After that each school will have more advanced qualifications. Course providers have now added a pile of different lesson sessions and qualifications to their SUP portfolios; SUP surf, racing, downwinding, white water, adventure, tour, expeditions, fitness sessions and yoga.

Which one do you need to take?
Well, that is a good question and something you will need to answer yourself. One thing is certain: you should. To just go and buy a board is fine, to teach yourself is OK – if all you intend is to paddle on calm enclosed waters. Ideally you should do the enclosed and open water courses as a minimum though, that way you’ll have a better understanding of SUP, and more importantly, what to do if it all goes wrong (which sometimes it can, even on the flattest stretches).

If you intend to venture further afield to open lakes, estuaries or even the ocean then you really do need to make sure that you have learnt through an accredited program at an accredited centre, club or been taught by a qualified, experienced paddler. If you just make it up as you go along then there is a fair chance that you will miss out on something important and develop poor technique that could lead to complications, not least muscular injuries or strains.

Only an accredited learning programme can offer a fully certificated and structured course that will cover all the information and skills you will require. They’ll provide you with a learning ladder that you can use to develop your SUP skills and proficiency and if you’re thinking of going into a tuition or an instructor role then without this certificated learning a career will be unattainable.

While a course may take a period of time to undertake you can shortcut this to a certain extent by doing a compact block course. Block courses are great and get all the training out of the way promptly. However, you do need to be able to show that you are competent at controlling your board in a precise manner, at a moment’s notice, so skills need to be there. This is something that cannot be shortcut. Only time and practise will achieve that level of proficiency.

Some clubs and training institutions have been accused of giving out certificate awards to new paddlers who aren’t fully competent. Trying to get people interested and hooked into their training programmes and weekly paddles. Yes, it makes total business sense. But it beguiles new stand up paddlers into thinking they are proficient, or dare I say even good! This false sense of security is leading beginner SUP’ers to tackle scenarios that they don’t have the skillset and environmental knowledge to do without risk.

You may find the above hard to believe, and it is certainly not true of all centres. Where I work I see a lot of holidaymakers from nearby cosmopolitan areas. I have had people with ‘Ready to Ride’ certificates book on my improver sessions, some wanting to do white water routes. When I have asked them their level of ability they say they have had three SUP lessons or similar and been awarded a ticket. They now want to hire a board from me and go down a waterfall and rapids! When you ask them if they can move their feet on a board confidently and they say: “We haven’t had that lesson yet,” you have to wonder…

Tony Bain

Clubs offer a great fun and relaxed way to learn. Like-minded people coming together to paddle, practice and develop their proficiency in SUP skills. While some clubs offer structured lessons over a six week course these elongated learning periods mean there is a potential issue if you miss out on a night or two. But just because you did those six nights paddling doesn’t mean you should be given the certificate. Being proficient at the skills is why you are awarded it.

Weekend or block courses with your accredited SUP learning centres, clubs and or reputable accredited paddlers offer a full set of instruction, and training in a short compact period. Having all the info that you need at this early stage will help you immensely when you get out on your own for the first time.

But it’s easy to start forgetting parts of what you have been taught, so pop back to a SUP instructor to refresh your memory, take an improver session and reinforce that SUP knowledge – you may even pick up some new tips or tricks.

What I am trying to say is learning doesn’t stop after the first few lessons. There are a huge pile of SUP skills to learn and while your local club may cover a few, sometimes you will need to look elsewhere to develop further.

While some SUP learning institutions cover all these different areas, some don’t. So you really need to look at the courses that are on offer. You may find that the course you want to do, the one that suits you, and your type of SUP paddling isn’t provided and you have to attend a different provider for those training and skill sessions.

For instance, if you contact me for a surf SUP lesson I’d tell you to find an instructor near the sea who specializes in SUP surfing. I’m not good at SUP surfing, I have no interest in it. I would be negligent in my lesson delivery if I offered this so I don’t.

Tony Bain

I’m into white water, large rivers, sea and river paddling with multi day expeditions and day tours. I’m told I offer great beginner, intermediate and advanced SUP learning lessons. So I won’t offer you a SUP racing lesson either. That is a whole different thing and your best is to seek that from a paddle club, a reputable and accomplished SUP racing paddler or SUP accredited learning centre that has the pedigree.

As I said earlier, your training is down to you, it’s not just one session, therefore lots to learn and practice. Your development may come from different locations, training centres and accredited people, which is a good thing. It’s also worth doing the same learning level again with a different instructor sometimes. They often have different ways of teaching which can benefit and allow things that were missed initially to be gleaned. So, happy paddling, and maybe one day our paddling paths will cross if you fancy learning more about river type paddling.

Tony Bain is owner and operator of Green Dragon Activities. A qualified SUP instructor Tony is also the Fastest Local Bog snorkeller (20 secs off the world record) and the holder of the World Bathtubbing record for 100 metres in a time of 1 min 26.41 secs. Find out more at

Green Dragon SUP School in North Wales offers SUP beginner and improver sessions for individuals and groups. Fun water Activity sessions, SUP Polo arena, SUP Jousting and Jumbo board racing.


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