Kids in Kayaks - Mountain Buzz

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Old 04-17-2010   #1
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Kids in Kayaks

6 years into the kid in kayak experiment has been thrilling, interesting, motivating, tough as Hell, expensive, crazy at times, bewildering, and most importantly; FUN!

For those of you that paddle and have kids, get them a boat, get them started in this fun insanity. You'll be rewarded a hundredfold in the level of their discipline, awareness of consequences, level of self-confidence, and level of maturity.

What age is the right age? Any age is the answer. But I honestly believe, the younger, the better.

The younger they are is where it gets interesting. They're very much visual learners at age 3, which is when I started my son. You have to resist the temptation of talking too much in detail and learn to keep it very very simple. The first simple steps are;
  • Starting Out - Pool only for a while, paddle strokes, wet exits, hip snaps, basics of rolling and always use nose clips and swim goggles when they're going to be upside down. That's so they can see what they're doing and not worrying about their eyes burning and water up the nose.
  • Rivers - Very short sections of rivers, 50 yards or less that have minor features and an eddy or two. The idea is to give them confidence in small steps by conquering the little things.

    As they progress, introduce them to longer runs with few of minimal consequences, because they will have swims. You need to have other boaters there to help with safety. They have to trust in the fact that you'll be there to get them no matter what.

    On easier runs, you can start letting them lead once they're confident. Ask them their opinion on what line is the best line and why they think it's the best line to take.
  • Practice swims in rapids with them, teach them self-rescue and assisted rescue, how they're supposed to grab the throw bag line and how to position their bodies.
  • Eddy hopping games - Make a game of catching eddies and always lose to them.
  • Rolling and bracing drills - I made of a game of this with my son, I'd push down on either side while he held his paddle level in front of him or over his head. He never knew which side I'd slam down on. It teaches lightning fast reaction skills in quick bracing.
  • Introduce them to competitive kayaking - Slalom, freestyle, and downriver racing. Always be there to help them in the beginning, eventually you'll be sitting on the sidelines watching them rip it up. Slalom teaches precision paddling. Freestyle teaches them 3-dimensional thinking in the sport. Downriver racing teaches them strength and endurance and reading water well. The combination of all three makes them safe and balanced paddlers.
Lastly, you will see fears, you will see tears and there are times when you have to push them a little, and times when you have to totally back off of it. There is no exact way to predict how they'll react in any given situation. It just has to be fun for them. Fun is the most important thing.

They will do and say the damnedest things. I have seen my son freeze up on a Class III drop in his boat, only to have him park it and go swim it deliberately. Conversely, I have seen him not hesitate at all on a Class IV drop and read'n'run it.

The experiment continues, but he's way beyond teaching to by me anymore. Just get them into the sport if they're willing, the rest will follow and you will be amazed.

And the Lord said, let there be whitewater. So on Friday, the 13th day of the month....
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Old 04-17-2010   #2
Thronton, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2008
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That's some good advice, for any kid on the river in any craft IMO. We're only rafting now, but the kids like to get into the IK's once in a while too. We actually flipped the IK last year (me and both kids - 8 and 5) while my daughter was paddling it. She did great, got right to the IK and held on, then floated down to me. My sone managed to end up with the paddle, but was ahead of everyone and screaming bloody murder. I caught up to him, my daughter and the IK caught up to me, and we all got back in. My son swore he'd never ride in the IK again. 30 minutes later, he was back in it. LOL

I mention this because I think it was a great lesson for all of us (my wife included, who was rowing the raft). It taught the kids some self rescue as well as some swimming. It also taught them what it is like to flip and go in unexpectedly, which they'll never get just jumping in off the boat or the shore. It all happened in a very safe place, with a lot of other people around to help should something have gone wrong (including a couple of guides with 20+ years of this stuff).

That same trip, we did some floating in our PFDs once we made camp, and used that as another opporunity to teach them what to do and not to do when in the river. I plan to start them on the throw bag this year, and maybe even swimming some small rapids as they gain confidence.

We even discuss reading rivers, how the currents push the boat around, etc. It's amazing how much they learn and understand. My son in particular seems to really take note (he's the 5 year old). When we go hiking, he likes to throw sticks in the river, then he pretends they are "duckies" and explains to me what they are doing (eddying out, surfing, flipping, etc LOL).

I agree with you, the younger the better, as long as they are enjoying it!
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Old 04-18-2010   #3
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The whole transformation that goes on in their judgement making skills is pretty cool. Kids who paddle appear to make better decisions than kids who don't. Someone may call bullshit on that, but I have seen it first hand with only one notable exception, and the kid in question is a misguided, ill-tempered, selfish little brat.
And the Lord said, let there be whitewater. So on Friday, the 13th day of the month....
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