Becoming a SUP Instructor

If you want to teach your friends to paddleboard, then as long as you’ve got a reasonable understanding of weather and water conditions so you can pick the right conditions for a session, and you’ve got some spare gear and plenty of patience, then – go for it! If you’re not charging for your services, and you’re only teaching friends and family who you know already and will (hopefully!) have a bit of trust and confidence in your skills, you’ll no doubt do a great job sharing your love of the sport – and everyone will have a great time. 


If you want to teach SUP as a commercial proposition,  ie. for reward (ie money, favours, koha, whatever), then it becomes a completely different game, covered by a whole lot of legislation and with significant consequences for you if something goes wrong. And ‘going wrong’ doesn’t just refer to accident or injury to your clients, but also to anyone else within your operating area. 

The SUP instructor operating for reward requires: 

  • A detailed understanding of the legal requirements around what they are doing,
  • A detailed understanding of the safety requirements and aspects for a session;
  • A detailed understanding of equipment
    (to ensure clients they are on the right gear for their own requirements);
  • A detailed understanding of weather and water conditions
    (to ensure conditions are appropriate and safe for a session);
  • Knowledge of rescue techniques;
  • First aid training;
  • A detailed understanding of how to instruct SUP
    (so that clients go away satisfied and recommend your skills to others!)

Working with children includes further legal requirements and issues. 

An instructor planning on doing anything that has a greater risk of potential harm (ie taking clients any significant distance offshore, or backcountry, or into more challenging conditions) has yet more legal requirements to consider. 

In other words, there is a lot more to doing SUP instruction as a business, than simply going out paddleboarding with people!  The knowledge and processes required are all perfectly achievable – there are dozens of great SUP schools and instructors operating around the country.  However, it’s important to appreciate that there is going to be some learning and work required on your part before you can start teaching SUP for reward. 

If you are already running an outdoor / watersports operation, and/or have other outdoor Instruction qualifications, then you will be familiar with the legislative and procedural requirements in this environment, so adding SUP to your existing activities will not be a major hurdle.  However, there is still plenty to learn in terms of best practice for teaching SUP, and understanding the specific safety issues regarding SUP. It should NOT be thought of as an easy option, or something that can be just bolted on to existing surf or kayak programmes. 

So how do I become qualified? 

There are a large number of SUP instruction courses available around the world. Most are two days long and attempt to cover most (or even all) aspects of SUP teaching in that time, including all the safety and management aspects. 

The SUP instructor course available in NZ up until recently has been of similar format, based loosely on the ISA course syllabus but with a lot of extra information included, particularly with regard to the specific legal requirements we have here. However,  the intensive two-day format is very flawed as it results in a heavy ‘information overload’ scenario, and actually gives participants very little hands-on practice at instruction .   

NZSUP has moved away from that style of instructor training, to a much more user-friendly and efficient model,  with each  course containing the following:

  1.  Online learning 
  2. Ongoing learning requirements and work-ons
  3. A practical session and assessment

The online learning requirements can be completed at the candidate’s own pace. The candidate attends (and pays for) the practical session and assessment only when they feel ready. 

There are two levels of NZ SUP Instructor Qualification available, along with some additional options. 

L1 SUP Instructor

This course is for the instructor looking to offer basic how-to SUP lessons or an entry-level SUP experience on a commercial basis in a safe, non-challenging environment. Standard format sessions rather than looking to develop ongoing coaching relationships with clients. 

L2 SUP Instructor

This course is for the instructor wanting to go beyond basic entry-level SUP experiences, and covers teaching progressor skills and operating in more challenging conditions on a commercial basis.    It is a pre-requisite of this course that the L1 SUP instructor level has been completed. 

Paddle Business Set-Up & Management Course

This course is for the person or company looking to set up a commercial paddle operation in New Zealand, which may be a school, guided activity, club or any other scenario where people are paying for a service involving paddling.  It covers the legal requirement, documentation and general business structuring and management issues, and also how to source and choose the right equipment for your operation.   This course is all online, and can be taken at any time, there are no prerequisites. It includes discussion time to consider and advise on the specific implications for your own particular business module. 

What happens beyond L1 & L2?

For those wanting to develop their SUP teaching skills further, we move from the realms of instructing into coaching.   Coaching is much more about building up a relationship with clients based on their individual requirements, which could be anything from wanting to race at national level, to adjusting their stroke technique so they can paddle without pain.  Learning to become a good paddleboard coach is hugely rewarding, and can be developed in many different directions – we have many ‘sub disciplines’ within SUP, such as surf, downwind, white water and of course all the various styles of racing, all of which requires competent coaches,  as well as the more general goal of helping everyone to improve their skills and get more out of the sport. 

NZSUP is currently working alongside Canoe Racing NZ and Sport NZ to create a comprehensive and rewarding set of SUP coaching qualifications.  This is still a work in progress, but the general plan, which will hopefully be in place for summer 2020/2021, will look something like this:

Try Learn Explore Coach

This is a development of the NZ SUP Level 2 instructor qualification, essentially working in the same general area of helping paddlers build on basic skills, but bringing in a lot more skill-building in coaching techniques, the needs of the individual client, skill development, and working with youngsters. This is for the coach working with a group of clients on a regular basis, ie weekly sessions with schools etc.  It also allows for cross-over into basic instruction in other paddling sports such as Ocean Ski, Canoe Sprint, etc.  ie. a qualified TLE SUP Coach will also be qualified to coach Try Learn Explore on surf skis etc once they have demonstrated competency in that craft. 

Development Coach

This qualification is for coaches wanting to coach paddlers beyond basic intermediate SUP paddling. It looks at developing the paddle stroke, dealing with injuries (in terms of how to modify the stroke to minimise or compensate for),  and getting into specialisations such as SUP surf, racing, downwind, etc. 

Race Competition Coach

This qualification is for coaches wanting to help their clients get into SUP racing. 

Performance, and High Performance Coach

These qualifications are for coaches working with SUP athletes at high & elite level. 

More information on these coaching awards will be coming soon, watch this space.  For anyone interested in getting into SUP coaching, there will be a great deal of overlap between the NZ SUP L2 instructor qualification and Try Learn Explore, the first of the coaching qualifications, so this is a great place to start. It will be an easy step from L2 instructor into the coaching pathway, most of your learning will already have been done.