Spending time on the water as a young child can help develop context, confidence, and reverence for traveling and navigating waterways. Early-life paddling experiences can engender lifelong passions.
As a parent, there is no better gift you can give your kids than the gift of time having shared outdoor experiences.
Stand up paddle boarding is an easy activity to do with your young one on the water. Mother and paddler Sarah Bayer offers a few pieces of advice to get started or enhance your SUP experience with your young child.
Get the Right Life Jacket
Safety first! Quality and Coast Guard approved infant, toddler, and small child life jackets (also known as Personal Flotation Devices or PFDs) are readily available at most major department stores and are relatively inexpensive.
If you're on a tight budget, gear like this is often passed around from family to family. Ask around in your neighborhood or on your local paddling forum.
When my child was able to sit on a paddleboard, my partner and I liked outfitting my child with a good Type 1 PFD. This PFD features a head/neck support My child is currently four and wears a more form-fitting Type 3 vest.
Always make sure to double-check PFD straps for tightness, even if your child is on a journey of increasing independence.
Paddleboarding with a child is not the time to test your adult skills or “shred the gnar”. Find a location that has calm waters with little or no significant wind.
Paddle early to avoid storms and other boat traffic. Give you and your child a maximum paddle time of about 15-30 minutes and have clear safe areas with available shoreline if you need to head back due to weather, a potty break, or a needed diaper change. A
As you paddle together more frequently, gradually increase the time you are out.
Find places with great wildlife or fishing viewing.
Pack Snacks and Water
Bring plenty of water and snacks that don’t melt in the sun. For younger children, cereals and squeezy apple sauces work wonderfully.
If your board has “D” rings for rigging, try bringing a small cooler or insulated bag along to have a floating lunch in a small cove or in the lilypads.
Invest in a small dry bag for food and other essentials you don’t want to get wet…even if it's just from your kid splashing across the water.
Sun Protection is a Must
Besides the obvious sunscreen, it's important to also wear a sun or swim shirt that provides coverage.
I recommend a brimmed hat with an elastic string with toggle at back for an adjustable fit. The string is helpful when a gust of wind blows up suddenly.
Know Your Board
Before you paddle with your child, make sure you have had plenty of time on your board, by yourself. Know how to rig gear, safely get on and off your board, and balance proficiently. Feeling confident with these basic skills allow you to manage a wiggly child on board.
Be ready to adjust your best fancy race power stroke to accommodate small feet and hands on the rails.
Balance and Ballast
Where should a small child sit when on a paddleboard? Before even getting on the board, establish a few rules such as staying seated unless given permission to stand.
I like to have my four-year-old sit in the middle of the deck pad, just above the center handle, with her legs crossed. I have sometimes put a fun sticker right where I want my kid to sit to make it fun and memorable.
It is likely that your child will put their hands or feet in the water… be ready for this. Remind your youngster that they need to stay in the center to keep the board balanced.
Let your child know that when you stop in a safe place there will be time to play more in the water and explore the rest of the board safely.
Involve Kids in Everything
Have your child help carry gear, try to pump up your inflatable, or even give a crack at paddling (with guidance). The more you involve your child in the routine, the more they know what to expect and how to prepare, stay safe, and have fun while paddleboarding with you.
Make Small Steps
Take the time to teach a few skills on each trip. Whether it's standing up and balancing on the board, or simply sitting still, or practicing switching sides paddling – infuse your paddling experience with teachable moments that will build confidence and competence.
Give your child small steps to learn and take action. It's important to not have them just be along for the ride
Don’t expect your kid to shred a Class III river or surf a hydraulic wave overnight.
Bring a Change of Dry/Warm Clothes
No matter how high and dry you keep your board or kid during your paddle session, remember that kids will always get wet and/or dirty! Mud pie fights or snagging a slime chunk of algae will happen. Plan to change for a comfortable ride back home.
End on a High Note
Quit while you are ahead! The need for a nap can creep up, fast and furious. Remember the old adage: Quit while you are ahead! Leave your child wanting more.
Ask "what was your favorite part of the paddle" to reflect on the fun!
Photos courtesy of Eli Pyke, Sarah Bayer, and Peter Hall.