​River SUP Certification – Level 1

My experience with Rob and the PSUPA has been extremely helpful in negotiating the many aspects of my lessons and guiding business. The PSUPA Instuctor program not only has more of a detailed focus on paddle technique, safety and modifications than other instructor courses I have participated in, but the course also covers in depth many of the ‘back end’ aspects to running a water based business.

The community around the PSUPA, the discussions of gear and modalities has been invaluable asset to the building of my business. Rob is always available for Q&A and has a very good read on the industry, including gear, locales and all things paddle. I highly recommend an affiliation with this organization for paddle instructors and anyone wishing to have a deeper understanding of the paddle industry and current trends.

Jaecey Suda

Owner/Operator, More Watertime Maui

The PSUPA River SUP Level 1 Certificate covers the skills you need to teach a basic river SUP class confidently and safely. The curriculum emphasizes water safety, leadership, and teaching risk management and rescue procedures. You also have the option to learn the basics of running a SUP business.

Certification is awarded upon completing the course, passing all tests, and achieving a satisfactory evaluation of your teaching and leadership skills, as well as your attention to safety. You will receive a PSUPA River SUP Level 1 Manual that covers everything covered in the course and more.

Course Duration: Typically 2-4 days.

Minimum Age of Participants: 18 years old.

Teacher-to-Student Ratio: 1:3; 2:6.


Learn how to teach a basic river SUP class, learn water safety, and leadership. Optional basic SUP business skills also offered upon request.

See curriculum below for more details.

Certification Requirements

Certification Valid for 4 Years: PSUPA certified instructors are required to take a one-day refresher course in their certification every four years to keep their certification valid.

Keeping Certifications Active: Active Annual PSUPA Membership and Current hands-on First Aid/CPR certification is required to keep certification active.


  • Successful completion of Flat Water 1 required prior to taking this course.
  • Have current hands-on (i.e., not Internet-based) First Aid/CPR certification or Wilderness First Aid or Lifeguard Training certification or the equivalent for your location.
  • Be in good overall physical shape and able to swim 200 yards, and be able to lift and carry all equipment.
  • Be able to launch and land a board safely, as well as safely fall from and remount a board.
  • Competent paddling Class 2 - 3 rivers.
  • Be able to paddle a minimum of 3 miles in varied conditions – for example, flat water, wind and river.
  • Have positive interpersonal skills.
  • Hold current PSUPA membership.
  • Sign liability form, provided by Instructor Trainer.This is not a course for beginners.

Note: Instructor Trainers have the right not to pass students who do not adequately demonstrate teaching skills and have a poor overall evaluation. If a student who does not pass wants to continue to work toward certification, further training outlined by an Instructor Trainer, at an additional expense to the student, will be required prior to issuing certification.

If you are not an experienced paddler or don’t yet meet the requirements for this certification, please consider taking some basic and advanced SUP classes from our Instructor Trainers or Certified Instructors before pursuing this certification.


Discussion Topics

  • River terminology
  • On-river communication – methods and devices
  • Hand signals
  • Float plan
  • River issues/dangers hazards
  • Types of rivers – classifications/CFS/gradient
  • Types of hydraulics and how to look for them
  • Hydrology - reading water
  • Planning a river trip
  • Board and gear outfitting
  • Equipment discussion – clothing, boards, paddles.
  • Nutrition/hydration

Discussion or Hands-On - Rescue Skills

  • Self Rescue – sitting, kneeling, swimming; walking in river and on-shore; prone paddling
  • Throw bag techniques
  • Gear repair on-river
  • Common issues
  • Z Drag and similar mechanical rescues (optional)

Hands-on - Paddling Technique

  • Stance
  • Essential strokes
  • Directional control
  • Entering and exiting river
  • Bracing/stability
  • Falling/recovery
  • Peeling in/out
  • Ferrying
  • River surfing

Paddling Training Techniques/Games

  • Catching multiple eddies
  • River left to middle to right and back
  • Ferrying fun
  • Ferry facing upstream, then facing downstream, then goofy and regular foot
  • River racing techniques 

River SUP Business

  • Insurance
  • Permits
  • Business set-up
  • Marketing
  • Community building, events/races.

Rivers and the Environment

  • Conservation/river conservation groups
  • Access issues

Requirements for Course Completion and Certification

Tests are Pass/Fail with Passing grade at 80% or better.

  • Pass on-water test
  • Pass written test
  • Demonstrate ability to teach land-based and on-water scenarios
  • Approval of Instructor Trainer through standardized student evaluation, which includes accessing leadership, teaching skills, and attention to safety

Cost for Certification

PSUPA Membership (annual membership) $ 85.00
On-Water Session (Price is set by local Instructor Trainer.  Typically a 1 day session) Set by Instructor Trainer
On-Line Test $14.25
Miscellaneous- Any associated travel or equipment rental costs for completing On-Water Session Varies

Certification is valid for 4 years (with active membership)

The entire course must be completed within 6 months from starting, (unless a preapproved extension is granted), so it is strongly advised for candidates to solidify their plans for the on-water portion prior to beginning.

Find Instructor Trainer