Paddling with your kids

Paddling with your kids

Here at the end of 2017, I have a 21 year old son and a 19 year old daughter.  I often have people tell me how lucky I am that my kids will still paddle with me, and I am!  As a kayak instructor and competitive paddler I was in a good position while they were growing up to foster their interest and love of paddling, and it has paid off.

I figured out early there were three main things-don’t go too long, don’t let them get cold, and forget a “plan.”  If I wanted to go from A to B, but it turned out we only made it a little past A, then hunted for pirate treasure or had the snack then that I thought would be a while later, it was good.  If the paddle turned into a swim, or a hike, or a shell-finding venture, that was good too.

Our early paddling was in sea kayaks, recreational sit on tops, and canoes but we ultimately graduated up to tandem racing canoes, sprint boats, and surfskis.  Eventually they paddled them solo, and got into SUP now and again.

me and logan tandem ski ck
Son and I in one of our first tandem surf ski races.
logan mako
14 year old son handling a tippy surf ski like a boss!
Happiest Dad around.
onancock start
Daughter and I leading the start of the Onancock Challenge, 2010


Patience is the word of the day when paddling with your kids.   When you first start, if they have a paddle, they aren’t going to use it TO paddle.  It will be a shovel, gun, guitar, and device that slows forward progress.  That’s okay!  Today’s paddle is about paving the way for future paddles.

Daughter with her paddle backwards, but having fun
She’s got her paddle backwards but who cares?! Her brother is solo in the blue boat next to us. Six and eight years old here.

Always-bring snacks and drinks.  Fruit is good, orange and banana peels aren’t as bad as plastic wrappers if they fall overboard.  Let the kids make their own water bottle with their choice of drink.  Have a toy or two, but nothing precious unless it floats.  Nothing ruins a fun day in a boat with your kid than an unplanned sacrifice to Neptune.

Happy fishergirl!
Happy kayak fishergirl!

Competitive paddling is awesome with kids, but your expectations have to be realistic.  Until they reach a certain age, they won’t be doing anything that makes the boat go faster.  In fact, they’ll likely be doing things that make it go slower!  Expect it in advance and you’ll both be happier.  If you paddle something less stable like a tandem surfski or K2, be ready to brace!  And if your partner keeps rocking the boat, don’t get loud!  Encourage them to keep it flat, they’ll learn eventually!  We were fortunate to have a great local racing community that gave my kids a ton of encouragement.

Racing in Toronto with my son.
me and sarah low five
Post win “low-5” with daughter.
Son's first award ceremony, 4 years old!
First post-race award ceremony for my son and I, at 4 years old!

Eventually, they can handle their own boat!  It’s awesome!  But they might not be able to keep up with you for a while.  Slow down, stay close, keep it fun.

The kids are adults now, our schedules rarely coincide, but we still paddle together!  SUP, surf ski, sea kayak or a combo of craft gets us on the water enough to make me happy, and proud.  Both my kids have followed in my footsteps and work professionally in paddlesports, again making me proud!  Good luck to all you parents getting your kids on the water, and keeping them stoked for it forever.

All adults here!

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