Paddle boarding started in Hawaii, but modern paddle boarding is a relatively new sport having started in 2008 in Malibu, CA as an ocean sport. Then it took off as a recreational sport for lakes and rivers, too. “More people stand up paddle in Austin, Texas on a daily basis than any other city in the world, quickly having established it as the SUP Capital of the World!”1
Deciding to start an instruction stand up paddle board (SUP) business needs more thought than, “I love to paddle board, so now I want to teach it.” It’s more than grabbing a bunch of boards and hitting the beach. It is a business like any other and requires planning, research and preparation.
Research paddle board rental and paddle board manufacturers’ websites, and visit some shops in your area. Are there local shops or resorts near the ocean, a lake or a river? You may also check with local yoga studios to gauge interest and discuss a partnership. If you find an interest in SUP classes or instruction, your business could fill it. It’s always better to fill a need, than to have to create it.
Will the business be just you as the instructor in one location or several, or will your business be providing many instructors for various businesses? Will you be working for a company or organization, or be an independent business working from your home or a rented location? Will you also offer other related classes or lessons such as SUP Yoga?
Three Business Models
According to Manatee Fritters (manateefritters.com) there are three popular types of SUP operations you can operate or become involved with:2
- Mobile Operation – This is the easiest and cheapest to run. You can work this out of your house and all business is conducted at the water. Customers call you, and you reserve boards from a SUP rental business, and you pick up the boards. This can be risky because you never know if the number of boards you need will be available at your supplier. You may need to have several rental businesses you work with. You will have to determine if renting boards is better for your business than owning boards. Hours can be at your discretion. You need a dependable vehicle to haul around the boards. You can do this part-time or anytime, and you don’t need any employees. But your marketing will be important to get your phone to ring.
- Fixed Base Operation – You work out of a fixed location every day. It can be a beach, a park or at a resort that offers paddle boarding. A fixed location like a resort can save in marketing costs because you have a captive audience. They may also have a storage facility for boards that they own, or you can pick up from a rental company. You may also be able to offer additional sports like kayaks or sailing. The downside may include having to purchase expensive and hard-to-get permits from local government. Resorts may want a cut of the proceeds. Once you set your hours, you will have to be on-site at all times. The key to success will be excellent customer service, keeping patrons safe and happy, and providing boards in tip-top condition (no chips or cracks).
- Retail Operation – This is the brick and mortar operation, and suited to the long-term business. It is the most expensive to begin and keep going. In addition to classes and lessons, you can also offer sales of boards, gear, clothing and accessories. You will be able to expand the business to include other sports such as SUP Yoga and kayaking. You can build an online business presence, and maybe even expand to other locations as you become successful.
In this operation, you will most likely need training in sales, inventory management, bookkeeping and management. You will need to find a location, get permits, licenses and insurance, purchase displays and office supplies, develop a website and purchase inventory. You will probably need to hire dependable and trustworthy employees which is not easy to do. If your business fails, it can be very expensive to unload inventory, break leases and end contracts with suppliers.
Offer your customers state-of-the-art instruction on how to SUP. They will expect you to be an expert in currents, weather, tides, wildlife, CPR and first aid. This is your profession now, and you need to be accredited in Stand Up Paddle Boarding to be competitive. Certification is necessary, especially when applying for liability insurance for your business.
You can lower your insurance (see Safety and Personal Liability below) premiums by being accredited by one of the following:
- American Canoe Association (ACA)
- Academy of Surfing Instructors (ASI)
- Paddle Fit
- Paddle Into Fitness
- World Paddle Association (WPA)
- Professional Stand Up Paddle Association (PSUPA)
You need to take advantage of social media and post often. If you have a website, you may want to add a blog. Join the local Chamber of Commerce. Look into having a Yelp page, Trip Advisor, or other review site.
Customer issues need to be dealt with quickly and honestly if you want your business to thrive. You will want to have feedback on customer experience to keep your business competitive and profitable. You can pass out review sheets at the end of classes or lessons, and have a comment section on your website. You can also make use of Facebook and Twitter (but you’ll have to allot time for responding.) The key to getting good reviews is responsive customer service, outstanding instruction and knowledge of SUP, and use of excellent equipment – professionalism in everything.
Marketing materials such as flyers would be nice to have for your customers. If you work out of a resort, they may produce these for you. You can make these flyers available at SUP rental establishments and yoga and fitness studios, too.
This is most important. If you are under-capitalized you won’t have enough money to get your business going, purchase inventory for a retail operation, obtain business licenses, insurance, a computer, a website and more. You will also need enough money to live on until you turn a profit (two years income is about right).
If you’re an independent instructor, will you name your business? In some states you don’t need to file a DBA if you’re using your full name or part of your name, and a description of your services. Check with your county or Secretary of State.
As an independent, will you take checks as payment, or only cash? What about credit cards? You can contact a bank with which you already do business to see if they will extend merchant services to you. Or use a mobile payment system like Square. Processing payments from your smartphone would be wonderfully convenient. Keep in mind that merchant account fees apply.4
Develop a business plan ahead of time. Will your business be instruction only, or will you also rent out paddle boards? Map out what your business will bring in. Develop profitability projections monthly and yearly. You can dive into your business plan using our business plan guide for instruction-based businesses.
Safety and Personal Liability
Your independent instruction paddle board business will need SUP insurance. And, if you hire Independent Contractors to teach classes for your business, they will need their own coverage, too (W-2 employees do not). They can get SUP instructor insurance here, but as the business owner, you’d need to call us at Dance Studio Insurance directly at (877) 811-2271 to get yours. Paddle boarding has a good safety record, so insurance will most likely be cheaper than for more extreme sports. You will need to provide first aid kits, whistles for all participants, personal flotation devices for all, and leg rope (leash) attachments for every board used in Open Water (ocean) instruction and Closed Water guiding. DanceStudioInsurance.com’s policies cover SUP lessons, classes, and instructors.
Other factors that affect pricing include whether you want coverage for open water, like the ocean, annual number of participants, the amount of coverage you choose, and whether you are a member of the Stand Up Paddle Industry Association. The SUP Industry Association strives to move stand-up paddling forward in a positive direction, while improving each member’s individual business.5