Groupon Type Discount Rates for SUP Lessons - An Observation

In Seattle where I live there are several locations to now learn stand up paddling. None of these existed two years ago. The trend for the summer are Groupon and Living Social type discounts where a class will be advertised as 50% off. Hundreds have been signing up to these, and one shop claimed they had over 1,500 signups in early summer.

The other options are surf and kayak shops mostly with waterfront locations who offer lessons for less than $30 mainly to draw interest from the customers to buy their gear. The third option for instruction is what I do, where I offer higher priced lessons where you get a lot more for your money and come away being an intermediate to advanced paddler.

The reality of Groupon discounts is if they offer a $60 lesson for $30, that means each party only gets $15 per person, usually for 2 hr lessons. So they make money from volume, thus being willing to accept several hundred sign-ups. Most who sign up are generally curious about the sport or are looking for cheap intro 'just to try it out' without investing more. At the tail end of a recession, it may also cater to those who are still low on their finances seeking an affordable activity.

The downside to those offering the above model is that the quality of instruction is usually poor. With so many to cater to, who has time to make sure every student gets enough attention? Two shops offer such discounts in my neighborhood. We've sat having drinks at a waterfront restaurant, and noticed dozens of beginner SUP'ers floating by below us. After a two hour lesson, most are still on their knees, paddles backwards, and a few standing rigid in bikinis fearful of falling in our 55 degree water. On windy days all are on their knees, some prone, or in the water swimming their boards back to shore. Most are dresses as if they were in Bikini, but in Seattle where water temps rarely get above 55F in summer

A busy boating channel is located just below where the the paddlers launch. With little or no instruction, they paddle directly across the 100' wide channel often into the path of power and sail boats coming from two directions. A 1-2kt outgoing current from the Chittenden Locks upstream pushes the paddlers into the Sound, and closer to oncoming boats. Most beginner SUP'ers fall over with any sort of bumpy water, and especially boat wakes. We've seen a few fall right in front of oncoming boats forcing the boat to swerve towards the shallow sandbar just out of the channel. Others have been caught or blown downwind. One guy two weeks ago had to walk his board 2 miles upwind back to the shop. A few have been rescued by boaters, a Police boat, and other paddlers.

Many shops who have regular priced lessons are fearful of these discounts as they may drive the price of paddling lessons down - or what customers are wiling to pay for such lessons. Since SUP appears easy, many aren't willing to pay much or anything for instruction. Two local shops laughed me out the door when I mentioned a SUP instructor certification course coming to town. But driving through town past the various paddling locations, nearly 95% of those on SUPs have poor technique, are on their knees, or are swimming their boards back to shore. Occasionally, I'll chat with paddlers who are frustrated with the sport as they thought it was easier. After struggling to stand for two hours, they had decided SUP wasn't for them.

As the old saying goes, "You Get What You Pay for."


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TC said…
I completely agree with you! As a sup instructor in San Diego, I see these deals just about everyday and it's frustrating to see everyone jumping on the bandwagon.
Thanks all for the comments! I had a caller last week book a lesson after finding me on the web but not looking at my credentials, just 'sup lessons', then called back to say they found a discounted voucher elsewhere in town for cheaper.