By Lee Richardson
Inspiring kids to get involved in kayaking has become a huge passion of mine over the past several years. Getting kids out on the water is so exciting and rewarding. It is different from paddling with adults. The kids actually learn things quicker and don’t have the same fears. Most often, the children are more eager to just try things and experiment, whereas adults generally like to analyze before diving in.
There are three main points to consider when taking a child out to paddle:
- Get them in an appropriate kayak
- Make them feel safe
- It needs to be fun first
Depending on the size of the child, a lot of the time you can use an adult sea kayak. We try to avoid kayaks that sit high in the water and that have a high volume right in front of the cockpit.
The kayaks that sit high in the water are often too tippy for the kids and each time they take a stroke the kayak lists and makes it hard for the kid to control. It can also take some weight in the kayaks that are designed like this to get them deep enough in the water that they don’t blow around. The kids are often too light to achieve this and have trouble controlling the kayak as a result.
Kayaks with volume in the deck and hull right in front of the cockpit also pose a problem because the child’s hands and paddle can often make contact with the deck in that spot, and makes things less enjoyable for the paddler. When this is happening, it is often because the child’s torso isn’t long enough to make their stroke miss the kayak and their strokes bang the kayak on each side as they take a stroke. The kids that experience this are often hesitant to try again as they aren’t having a great experience.
The best thing you can do to ensure your child has a positive experience is to get them in a craft they can have good control over and fits them as well as possible. We like using Current Design Ravens and Necky Eliza for smaller kids. There are also some other small kayaks that are geared toward kids that have a sea kayak set up, like the Thahe Solo 150 and Preception 12s - the Preception 12s do not have hulk heads and require float bags.
Choosing the right time for kids to get exposed to kayaking is important as well. In order to be successful, and for the child to want to do it again, they have to be comfortable and feel safe.
Choosing the right conditions is important. Some minor weather conditions can be exciting for some kids, but too much of a struggle or too much cold can turn a kid off the sport.
Having them wear the same gear as you always helps. We have found that getting them in the water right away also helps, and we do not insist on spray skirts in the beginning. Ideally, the conditions will not be so rough to require a spray skirt. The spray skirt can often make the children feel trapped and at this early stage, we like to eliminate the apprehension. That being said, wearing a wetsuit or thermal protection of some kind can be useful if the water is cold. Also, a PFD that fits them well and that is still comfortable when the child is in the water can be advantageous.
Getting the child in the water and back into their kayak during their first experience, on purpose, can also create a bit of confidence and the kids actually find the re-entries fun to do. I taught my son re-entries at a very young age.
Going out and doing a four hour paddle may scare a child away and will likely end up in an adult giving a tow for about 3.5 hours of the paddle. We recommend that the first few paddles be short and focused on “messing around,” seeing something interesting, having races, learning how to maneuver the kayak, and just practicing.
Having the child in an environment where they can have freedom and “mess around” on their own can be advantageous. Later down the road the kids can build up to the touring style of paddling, but, in the beginning, letting the child mess around with the kayak and doing some discovery learning goes a long way for the child’s confidence and lets them get in the driver's seat of their own kayak and get to know how to use it.
Most children do not like to be told what to do every second, so allowing them time to try some things out and have a water fight on the first day is more important than covering 10 kilometres in 4 hours.
Children love having control over their own vessel, and if you make their first experiences fun, safe and comfortable, the kids will want to come back!
If you are new to paddling, check out my PDF of simple tips you need to know before get started.