THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW WHEN RUNNING A PADDLEBOARD BUSINESS
CAN I MAKE A LIVING OUT OF STANDUP PADDLE BOARDING?
You might be able to, but it’s not guaranteed. There are some SUP instructors and rental companies who do make a full time living out of just SUP, but most need to do something else as well. Some support their SUP business by working in other watersports – as freelance instructors and coaches for example, some do it alongside a part-time or seasonal job. Those who are able to run as a full-time business often work anti-social hours to make it work. So don’t assume there is a pot of gold under the SUP rainbow!
IS THE SUP SECTOR STILL GROWING?
If you’re wondering whether there’s space for a new business, you need to know if SUP is still growing or not. One way of checking this is to see how the number of searches for certain phrases is changing over time on Google using Google Trends.
The image below shows a graph for the phase SUP since 2004. There were more searches for SUP in 2018 than 2019, so on some counts you might conclude that SUP has peaked. However, given the overall trend, the sublime weather we had in 2018, and the rather less than glorious 2019, a more realistic conclusion is that searches for SUP are continuing to increase.
IS IT JUST A SUMMER BUSINESS?
Lakeside and beachside rental are predominantly a summer business, although the rentals at the shoulders of the warmer weather are increasing. But there are ways of managing this – some people become Ski instructors in the winter, or organise SUP trips during the winter. Some lucky people manage to work as SUP instructor through the winter in warmer countries.
Whitewater paddleboarding or Race SUP instruction are also ways you can extend your SUP business season through the winter. There are now winter race seasons all around the country (check out the events on SUPhubUK to find events near you), and SUP athletes keep training through the winter. Whitewater SUP in the UK requires rainfall, otherwise the whitewater reaches tend to be too shallow. So the whitewater season starts in autumn and runs through the spring. If you talk to businesses like Stand Up Paddle Board UK in North Wales, they are busy year-round with a mix of whitewater courses, hen and stag parties, running instructor courses, and running recreational SUP sessions through the warmer weather.
HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE DO I NEED TO RUN A SUP BUSINESS?
If you’re not already a qualified instructor, or don’t already have have lots of watersports experience, then it might be a little early to be thinking about running a SUP business. But we know some people who have gone from SUP zero to SUP hero in a few years with the right instruction, getting enough paddling hours behind them (pretty much paddling every day for two years!) and knowing where their limits lie.
GETTING YOUR BUSINESS QUALIFIED AND ASSESSED
rust is really important, and being able to say to your potential customers that you’re a qualified instructor-led business, and is a really good way of establishing trust.
If you just want a quick straightforward instructors certificate to operate on a low risk enclosed water body, then the British Stand Up Paddle Board Association (BSUPA) is a good option. They provide an instructor’s certificate after a 2 days course with some post course instructor shadowing. You’ll also need a powerboat certificate and first aid training.
The Academy of Surf Instructors also runs a similar entry-level level 1 instructor course, wit which you can be certified as a level 1 instructor after two days of training.
If you’re looking for a more extensive training and coaching framework, British Canoeing has relaunched its entire personal performance and coaching framework. The new framework is much more based on the individual, understanding what individual paddlers need at different stages in their paddling career, building on the strengths and recognising the constraints of the individual. The pathways approach also develops with the individual – so there’s no need to learn about whitewater SUP skills unless you’re going to be leading whitewater SUP trips. This modern outcomes focussed approach to training and evaluation means that it’s adaptable to you and your individual and business needs.
The Water Skills Academy is another training provider that focusses on coaching rather than instruction, and allows individual instructors to choose a pathway similar to British Canoeing. But the list of different courses and training is long. For example, WSA are the only training organization to specifically offer Giant/Monster Mega SUP training for instructors.
Each of the different training organisations has a different style, different personality, and different feel. They all offer different benefits to members, so it’s worth talking to all of them before you decide which organisation works for you.
MANAGING PADDLEBOARD BUSINESS RISKS
Even in the safest of locations, paddleboarding can be dangerous business -slippery feet, slippery banks and slips and falls are likely to happen. And at the other end of the scale, any water-related business carries a risk of drowning customers. You’ll need to do a business risk assessment and site risk assessments for every place you intend to operate from. If you’re not used to doing risk assessments, then you’ll need to get advice from a technical assessor. But assuming you’ve done instructor training with one of the training associations detailed above, then you will be able to get your business technically assessed through that training organisation. That training org may also be able to help you out with insurance as well. Most, if not all of them, can offer subsidised insurance through membership of that body. insurance is your most important legal protection against things that might go wrong. If you employ anyone you will need employers liability insurance. You will need public liability insurance as a minimum, and you should also consider insurance covering the loss, damage or theft of your equipment.
PROMOTING YOUR SUP BUSINESS
It takes a while to establish a presence and reputation. And you need both to attract custom. So you need to be building your website and social media presence months before you launch, if you possibly can. A good website is your shop front, and getting your website ranked on Google is tricky. The general rule is content is king, so make sure your website clearly tells people what you do, who you are, how much things cost etc. Also don’t think you can just copy content from other websites – Google penalises websites that do that which will prevent your page being found.
We recommend speaking to a developer with some experience in the sector, they’ll be able to help choose the right shopfront, website hosting and booking software. And they’ll be able to help you with the all important SEO from the outset. From our own bitter experience, you’ll get it wrong if you try to do it all by yourself, unless you are a developer!
Once you’ve got your website set up, it’s worth starting to speak to local companies and seeing if you can arrange joint offers or promotions. And if you can do so with local companies that have a good web and social media presence, you can benefit from their network.
Also, make sure you set up a Google My Business profile. It’s free, but will help you appear in local searches and on google maps.
There are normally some free local listing sites available if you seek them out. And also local social media groups might allow you to advertise occasionally. SUPhubUK allows you to advertise your business and events for free.
Local journalists are always looking for easy content to publish, so if you write an article about why paddleboarding is so great, all the places you try paddleboarding in your local area, or why paddleboarding is good for your health, you might find the local paper will publish it online or n the print media. And when it comes to promoting to journalists, Twitter is normally the journo’s tool of choice!
LinkedIn can be a very good way of connecting with other outdoor professionals, or if you want to advertise your company to businesses as well as retail customers.
You might also find that local hotels/campsites etc are happy to advertise your business to their guests as a service they offer.
Setting up a SUP Club or organising free come and try sessions is a way of generating a customer base. And if you offer free come and try sessions to journalists you’ll almost certainly get a published article out of your effort.
And finally, try to attend local public events – waterside festivals for example. The people who attend those events are more likely to be watery type of people, who in turn are more likely to become customers.
Thoughts from our partners who have recently set up SUP Businesses
“When we first started at Daddyboards our aim was to bring affordable SUP to a market crowded by only a few brands. Being able to establish trust in a new company for clients is crucial and in a world where image is everything this is only possible with good gear. In my area we are up against a market flooded with only a few global brands so being able to offer something different in McConks boards that surpasses in quality has really helped us set ourselves apart from the norm.” Scott MacGlashan Daddyboards, Kent
“Know your target audience. Apart from SUP, what will your business do for the environment and what benefits will it bring i.e health and well being. Water education (kids and families). Good relevant insurance as if you were taking your kids to SUP, what would you want. A reliable good relationship with a good sup distributor (it works both ways) stay fresh, love SUP and what it’s about. Love SUP and the money will come, love money and it won’t sell SUP. Have a presence where ever you are, be kind, introducing yourself to everyone within the area your suppin. And don’t forget the first time you paddled and what it meant to you !!! You are now the first experience. Stay safe xxx”
from Adam Williams Boardin Skool, Norfolk
“Creating a SUP business is reliant on passion; if you have that fire in your belly to take the first step and that passion can keep you moving forward on the quieter days and weeks then you’ll have a business. If you can ignite that fire in those that you introduce then you have a great business that can take you places. You can have the greatest risk paper trail in the world, the greatest marketing campaign, but no customers if you can’t pass on this ‘stoke’.” Keith Wraight the Roundhouse, Birmingham