As standup paddling has exploded in popularity, the number of new enthusiasts and instructors eager to teach has also grown. The short learning curve and minimal equipment required to paddle is allowing the sport to spread like a virus. But with this influx of new users, rental programs, race events, on-water yoga lessons and stroke clinics, there is also a growing need to establish professional standards for safety and best practices in board handling. Offering certification courses meant to teach the teachers, twin watermen Dick and Dane DeBoer have created a curriculum to educate professional paddlers in the finer points of SUP with the Academy of SUP Instruction (ASI).
"You have to understand the dynamics of putting people on the water and the dangers they impose," said Dane, a Los Angeles County firefighter and paramedic. "The beauty of standup paddling is anyone can do it. But, when the conditions get challenging to a beginner and they get tired, they're not going to be able to paddle that board in the direction they want to go. What happens then?"
Emergency calls and open water rescues of standup paddlers prompted the brothers to take a close look at how new paddlers were being trained. After years of experience both in water sports and crisis management, they built their safety course from the ground up.
"We're expert watermen, but we had to go back to the basics," said Dick, a Los Angeles County law enforcement officer. "You can't just paddle up to a beach, tail weight a board, put the nose on the dry sand and walk off the board. If you're teaching beginners that, for one, they're going to get hurt, and two, you're going to be liable as the instructor."
Dick and Dane want to minimize the risk to paddlers of all abilities and they also want to provide professional instructors with a set of certifiable skills that will let them earn a living through SUP.
"When you're someone who wants to rent, give lessons or do tours and put people out on the water, you want to tell an insurance company that you're licensed by a governing body," Dane said. "They want to see that you've taken a course and that you're not just someone off the street who has no background in training."
Sanctioned by the World Stand Up Paddle Association (WSUPA) courses through the Academy of SUP Instruction provide trainees with education in basic water safety as well as the foundation for SUP teaching methods. Course prerequisites include current certification in American Heart Association basic Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation/Automatic External Defibrillator (CPR/AED) and the ability to demonstrate SUP proficiency in tasks such as starting/safety/dismount positions, forward strokes, turning and stopping.
ASI courses are not for beginning paddlers. Rather, they're meant to give water safety professionals the skills they need to help new SUP enthusiasts enjoy a positive experience. Trainees learn the finer points of stroke technique and what to look for in different types of equipment, but they are also taught how to effectively perform rescues and mange their own students in case of an emergency.
"You need to know what to do when someone falls in who might be unconscious. You need to know how to get them back on the board," said Harmony Dawn, an ASI paddling instructor in Ottawa, Canada. "There are so many things to consider that you don't think about until they happen. I train all kinds of scenarios like towing two kids on a board at the same time to having an unconscious person, or losing a paddle."
In an inherently dangerous environment water safety is critically important. Though SUP might seem safe and easy there are many hazards that can put beginning paddlers at risk. Dawn provides vital training to fitness instructors who have limited experience on the water.
"With yoga instructors, I get them to learn all the strokes, pivots, cross, bow, etc., even though they won't be using them," she said. "They're going out in waist-deep water, they paddle around, they anchor and they come back in. But water safety is taught regardless with every program."
Extensive training in SUP safety might not seem important, but certification courses offered through ASI and other organizations like the World Paddle Association or the American Canoe Association are a reliable sign of professional accountability. Although anyone can teach SUP, certified instructors typically receive discounts on their liability insurance and are recognized by their peers for taking the necessary steps to maintain a high level of skill and expertise.
ASI certifications are good for two years, but don't require renewal as long as the instructor continues to teach and practice their craft. Certification through WPA includes classes for swift water, whitewater and surf across multiple levels of experience. Course fees range between $250 and $300 for an 8-hour class that includes both dry land classroom and on-water instruction. And with trained instructors across the U.S. and parts of Canada, new classes are being taught every year from coast to coast.
"People out there setting the pace are master instructors and teach year-round as their livelihood," said Dane.
Skilled and certified SUP instructors are helping to expand the sport by making it safe for participants at all levels of ability. From training lifeguards and law enforcement officers who patrol beachfront recreation areas, to swim spotters at triathlons, SUP is growing while keeping risk to a minimum.
"Having developed a curriculum that's well received, we're just stoked and we'll just keep charging forward on what we're doing," said Dick. "If we can save one life it's worth it." —James Mills
For more info about ASI, visit: WorldStandupPaddleAssociation.com