5 Easy Tips for Teaching Your Kids to Kayak

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Isn’t it fantastic when your kids look around and think “you know, I want to be just like you”.  Okay, this hasn’t really ever happened to me, but it sure has to my husband.  Um, yes, I’m pretty darn jealous of him!  Mason, our oldest, wants to do everything in his power to be just like his dad.  From the second that Andrew gets home in the evening, Mason has a million things that they simply must do together.

This has gone a long way in getting Mason really excited about outdoor sports.  First it was skiing, and then onto climbing.  This summers obsession was kayaking.

After our trip down Desolation Canyon in May, and seeing Dad and all the uncles rockin’ the kayak, he’s been dying to give it a try.  I’d like to think that I also had a hand in this obsession, as he thought it was pretty cool to watch me learning this summer, but honestly, I was probably just his comic relief!

Luckily, we teamed up with the folks from Lifetime Sports and thanks to their kid-sized Wave kayak, he’s been doing just that.  

Make the most of it and grab a kayak for yourself so you can have fun and help your kids out (and be considerably safer too).

Here are some tips to help your kids learn to kayak and LOVE IT!

1.  Start on flat water.

This means a lake.  This is a great place for kids to learn how to paddle and maneuver their boat in a safe environment.  Even though a river may appear to be calm, adding in the challenge of a moving current can be frustrating for beginners.

2.  Focus on good paddling and balance.

These two things will be one of the biggest  helps down the road, so make sure they get them down from the beginning.  Have your child get in the habit of just paddling forward (this will make quick maneuvers much smoother down the line), primarily alternating sides with each stroke, and taking solid deep strokes.  Also practice taking long, deep strokes, and short, quick strokes that will help them in different situations.  As kids learn to paddle, teach them how this can help with their balance.  With each stroke you take paddling, you actually brace yourself into a balanced position, so teaching paddling in difficult situations is essential.  practicing wiggling around and tipping their boat on edge will also help them to understand their own balance limitations and those of their boat.

3.  Move to moving flat water.

Translation – a river without rapids.  Here is a great place for kids to solidify their paddling and balance while learning to navigate in a current.  Practice getting into and out of eddies as well as getting in and out of the boat on a rocky shore.  Stay here until they are really comfortable!

4.  Try out a kayak play park.

Kayak play parks are on the rise and can be found in a lot of areas where river sports are popular.  Most of them consist of a small section of previously flat water that has been manipulated with man-made rapids added.  The advantage of these is that they are a good introduction to rapids and most have a pool-drop set-up with flat water before and after each wave which provides lots of time for set-up, recovery and instruction.  Also if your kid is struggling, you’re not stuck on a 2 hour stretch of river while they get frustrated and upset!

5.  Tackle an easy river.

A good place to start is with a simple class II/II- river.  This is a great way to get their confidence and skills solid while really nurturing their love of the sport.  Remember that when you’re in a kayak, any wave will seem HUGE so your kids will also feel like the rock stars of the century by getting to this point!

One of the major inhibitions for parents getting their kids into a sport like kayaking is the cost.  Until recently, we’d only heard of the FUN1 and I wasn’t about to spend that kind of money to just try something out  (since used Fun1’s or rentals are incredibly rare).  The Lifetime Wave is the perfect solution.

I first saw/fell in love with it at the OR show this summer.  I quickly convinced my amazing friend Alyssa, to bring her kids over to check it out.  Without ever having paddled before, her 5 and 7-year-old were quickly maneuvering it all over the lake.  At the end of the trip, Lifetime sent us with one for Mason to test out.  We spent several evenings at the lake and just let the kids paddle their hearts out.  While at 6 Mason was able to figure it out easily, almost 4-year-old Chloe struggled with the paddling mechanics (we’ll try her again next summer).  Mason was quickly learning to make fast maneuvers, and then to practice charging rapids (or waterfalls as he calls them).

We were feeling really confident in his ability and comfort level, so we soon took him to a play park.  Um, yes, we break our own rules!  The Wave recommends that it shouldn’t be used on whitewater, but we didn’t listen to that either.  It was a disaster!  We got there only to discover a play park overcrowded with tubers who didn’t care about a beginning 6-year-old kayaker.  On his first wave, he was bumped going into it, hit it sideways, and got dumped out (thanks you tubing jerk).  Andrew brought him over to the side as Mason recounted to me how he almost died.  Have I mentioned before that he’s kind of dramatic?  HA!  He went through the next few rapids with a better set-up, but each one ending in a tipped boat.  Okay, so it’s really not made for whitewater.  I think if it came with some thigh straps, it would pretty easily be able to tackle some easy class II (since it currently offers nothing to keep a kid in the boat other than an optional seat and small foot pegs – thigh straps would be a HUGE improvement).

Thankfully, Mason has a short memory and was dying to take his boat down our Horsetheif and Ruby Canyon trip.  He was a rock star!  Seriously this boat was absolutely perfect for this type of river.  Small riffles, simple eddies, and easy moving water.  He paddled for 3 hours despite being soaked to the bone, and barely being able to hold onto his paddle because his hands were so cold.  We couldn’t do anything to get him off of his boat.  He was in his happy place.  We left that trip with a boy who not only likes kayaking, but is pretty obsessed with it (he has drawn no less than 20 pictures in the last week that highlight his “mad skills”).

It’s perfect!  Even though it’s not meant for whitewater (as we had to learn the hard way), there’s a whole lot that your kids can learn with this fantastic introductory boat. We’ve put together a full list of the best kids kayaks so you can choose the kayak that’s best for your kids.  

The only bad part is that now we need to start saving for a Fun 1 because he’ll be ready to step it up to the next level before we know it!

Thanks to Lifetime for providing the kayak for this review and article!

About Jessica Averett

Hi, I’m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.

2 thoughts on “5 Easy Tips for Teaching Your Kids to Kayak”

  1. Hey — you need to bring the kids (hmm… clever name) up to the little lake by our house when you get here. Lots of neighborhood kids play in it — very still water for Chloe to play in .

  2. This is such a great blog! This relates so much to my life outdoors with two kids. I’m so glad I found another outdoor blog. I love taking my toddler and preschooler kayaking with my husband.


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