5. Paddling with Your Kids


Tyler at the GutterI’m sure there are as many different ways to go about this as there are kids. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but a couple of people have asked for my ideas on the subject – so figured a post would give others ideas and that they may post and share theirs.

I have 4 kids. My boys are the oldest – Tyler (15) and Troy (12). My girls are Brooke (turning 9 in September) and Paige (6).

Tyler and I started paddling about 5 years ago, but didn’t get serious until the 2006 season. Troy started paddling in 2004, but was using a Perception Spark and we had to put throw-bags on each side of him just in an attempt to keep him centered in the boat – but he was so small that didn’t even work very well. At the end of the 2005 season I bought Troy a Fun 1.5 and that totally changed everything.

A little about my kids so you know where I’m coming from:

Tyler Staircase 1Tyler has never been much for ‘team’ sports. He has always been tall for his age, loves to be outside, and loved kayaking as long as he was with his favorite instructor, Chad. But if anyone but Chad was with him it was tough to get him on the water and he was really scared going through rapids he enjoyed when Chad was along with him. About two years ago Idaho River Kids changed to a very focused instructional format and that totally changed him. A couple of weeks ago he qualified as a safety boater for Cascade Raft on the Payette South Fork. Who would have thought…

Troy Gutter 3rdTroy is another story. He is very coordinated (not from me!) and is very social and loved soccer. He is small for his age and gets cold easy. So I suspected he would not even want to paddle. WRONG! Once he got his Fun 1.5 he learned to roll at 10 and I have been trying to keep up with him every since. To stay warm, however, he does wear a dry-top all summer long. Every Christmas the top items on his list are paddling related. Again, who would have thought…

img_2576.JPGBrooke started paddling last year (2006). Brooke is very serious and also coordinated like Troy. While she likes the river, she hasn’t been crazy about hard-shells. She had a bad experience in a class II last year. She got flipped and forgot where her spray skirt handle was. I caught up to her and rolled her back up. She was upside down for about 7 seconds, but I’m sure it felt like an eternity to her. It really scared her and shook me up as well since I kept waiting for her to wet-exit. But even before this she was a nervous-nellie. She has paddled about 5 times this year, but just not clicking with it. She does enjoy being in a raft or inflatable – so if that is what she wants, I can live with that – and I’ll go to her violin recitals and have a blast watching her.

Paige-1Paige is….Paige. As the youngest she never understood why her older siblings can do things she can’t. She is very competitive. If her 15 year-old brother can do it – step aside, ‘cuz here comes Paige to show you she can as well! I almost didn’t start her this year because she drove a boat on flatwater in the general pattern I can only compare to a drunken bee. But she is always smiling and has that drive – so here she is paddling this year and actually doing very well.

Once my kids expressed an interest in paddling, I found that gear was the next big concern. I started Troy (again, small for his age) in a Perception Spark and had to add throw bags on each side just to keep him somewhat centered – but he still always listed to one side… Then we got him into a Robson SuperSonic – same deal, just too wide with a big flat hull. There was no way he could roll either boat. The next year he was 10 and I got him into a Jackson Fun 1.5 – and ‘Bada Bing Bada Boom’ he was hand rolling by the end of the winter. So my opinion is don’t mess around with boats that are too big when they are ready to roll. Get them in something that fits.

I think one really important step is to team up with other parents that have kids paddling and trade gear. They just grow too fast to spend big dollars on gear they use one year. Some things I have purchased slightly large, but most need to fit well. A skirt that fits well and is easy to get off is important – a proper fitting PFD is imperative. But I really think that moving gear around between friends with kids helps. My boys even buy their own gear now. Tyler bought a nice Snap Dragon skirt this year, and Troy saved and bought his own drytop and a paddle he wanted.

So, I say all of this to lead into a bullet-point summary of what I have learned (for my kids)

  1. Don’t push!! I let them decide that THEY want to paddle. I introduced them too it, but THEY have to decide if it’s for them.
  2. Be Patient!
  3. I can help them decide they will like it. Back off and don’t rush anything. Flatwater, Class I to start the younger ones on. It’s all about fun, make it that way.
  4. I don’t make every time out an ‘educational’ experience. I let them just go and have fun sometimes – where I don’t correct anything or nudge them to run a harder line or push for a little harder move.
  5. I have them go with an instructor sometimes. I think it’s great to have someone besides mom or dad tell them what to do (since we do it all day anyway) As well as my kids and I get along, they just take advice better from an instructor. Also timid kids may be more brave with someone else.
  6. Only when I know they are 100% ready to make the jump to the next level do I suggest it. Maybe I’ll offer a little reward like going out for ice-cream afterwards.
  7. I have waited until they asked me before I taught them how to roll. Until then it’s just been easy stuff that they can wet-exit or I can Hand-of-God them. For my kids so far 10-years-old seems to be the magic age for learning the roll. I know lots of kids can get it younger, but 9-10 just seems to me to be the age that it really begins to click for them.
  8. Big High-Fives for accomplishments big or small!
  9. Once they hit the point that they want it – step aside and prepare to be left in the dust.

So now my boys are nudging me to run the harder line or make that new move. If they can be patient with me I guess I’ll keep paddling with them. Hope they don’t mind when Paige passes them up…

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