Getting your kids started in SUP

By Corran Addison

Kids that love water, and are gung-ho, are not likely to be much interested in any sort of ‘lesson’ at first. They’re going to want to just jump on the board and go, so don’t worry too much about what’s the right way and wrong way to do things.

If your kids are anything like mine, it probably won’t take much to get them interested in trying out paddle boarding. In fact, my son was three the first time I put him on a board. While this is unusually young, most definitely by the age of about five there is no reason not to take your kid out.

All kids are different, and you need to keep this in mind. While in my case, getting my son out on a board was the simplest thing, some kids are far more weary and may even dislike of have fears of water. So you need to tailor what you do, and how you do it, to suit your kid.

In the case of my son, when we started paddle boarding, he could not swim. In fact, even now, at six years old, his ability to swim without a life jacket is poor. We don’t have a pool, so practicing is harder for us. As such, having a good life jacket is critical. If there is one place not to skimp on cost, it’s here. A good life jacket is the single most important piece of equipment, and you need to be clear on this. Even if your kid is a good swimmer, this still remains paramount.

Whether your kid is a go-getter, or more reserved, unless they’re approaching 10 or so, you have to keep it a game. Yeah, for about 15 minutes it might be about actually paddle boarding, but chances are it’s more about playing in the water, climbing on the board and jumping off, kicking the board away and swimming after it, and so on.

So play this game with them. If you think you’re going to put your kid on a board and then go hammer out some reps, I have some news for you…

Most people of course start off with their kid with them on a board together, and this will fly at first, but it’s not going to last. It’s perfect for introducing your kid to paddle boarding, getting them on the water, and if they’re really young, giving them confidence. If they have their own paddle, even if their understanding on how to use it is limited, they’re still going to try, while you do the actual work.

You’ll find very quickly, however, that most kids are going to want to paddle their own board. This does present somewhat of a problem, as there are very few kids boards out there, and putting your kid on a 10’6” x 32” board is the equivalent to you paddling a 16’ x 40” wide board. No fun at all!

Often, smaller sized surf SUP shapes can work, but these are usually quite expensive, so unless you already have one for yourself that your kid can use, while you take something bigger, you’re going to end up shopping around for one.

Inflatable boards have become the de-facto go-to for most recreational paddle boarders. While there is most certainly a performance loss compared to a well designed, profiled composite SUP, unless you’re trying to do cardio laps, or marathon paddles, they honestly work perfectly well at an even cruising speed, and have the advantage of being quite light, fairly strong and roll up into a bag.

These same attributes apply even more to kids, who will most likely also want to use the board as an on-water springboard, are going to be leaping about, and the ‘softer’ construction of an inflatable is going to offer more opportunities for fun, and less change of getting hurt when one of those leaps lands sideways on the deck or board rail.I was unable to find any correctly sized at the time my son started getting into paddle boarding, so I went out and had some made, but this has likely changed now and you can probably find a number of brands making scale model boards.

Most likely you’re looking for something under eight-foot and under 25 inches wide and not more than four inches thick for most pre-teen kids.

As I already said, don’t kid yourself into thinking that you can just throw them onto your board and call it a day. Sure, it’ll work at first, but they’re going to get frustrated, as you would if you were on a massive barge, and probably end up losing interest. So if you’re passionate about paddle boarding and hope your kid will be too, then you need to just cough up the money for appropriate sized gear.

Now, let’s look at some do’s and don’ts…
First of all, and I cannot say this enough; keep it fun. This isn’t about you. It’s about your kid’s experience. If you make it about you, then most likely the end result is going to be just you, paddling alone.

Kids that love water, and are enthusiastic, are not likely to be much interested in any sort of ‘lesson’ at first. They’re going to want to just jump on the board and go, so don’t worry too much about what’s the right way and wrong way to do things. Show them how to hold the paddle before you get to the water, so you have their attention, and once at the water about all you’ll have time for is to get them to stand with their feet side by side before they take off.

You’ll have to give them pointers one at a time, as needed, over time. Most of the time kids are quick learners and they’ll just figure it out on their own.

However, some kids are more reserved and are going to want you right there with them for emotional support. Usually, they’re less intuitive with things like this and are more likely to sit and listen as you explain things to them. Start off kneeling, or sitting on the board, and just slowly float out. Chit chat. Take a ball or something and pass it back and forth, or their favourite figurine. The two of you can then ‘teach’ the figurine what to do – it distracts from any fears, and empowers the kid to be ‘teaching’ and ‘looking after’ rather than being the intimidated beginner..

One thing you do not want to do, is get testy when the kids are dilly dallying on shore, mucking about of not conforming to ‘your’ timetable. Again, this is not about you. If they’re having fun standing next to a paddleboard, throwing sticks in the water, then let them. If they have a good time, they’ll want to go back, even if you never actually put onto the water. They’re still associate the pleasant experience with paddle boarding.

Of course, with older kids approaching 10 or more, this is different, but at this stage you’re essentially treating your kid much like you would an adult, with a more watchful eye.

Which brings me back to safety. You’re over water, and things can go wrong very quickly. Constantly check the life jacket is secure and tight – almost uncomfortably tight. You only need to be distracted for a few seconds and a kid with an ill-fitting jacket falls in and sinks. I usually suggest one parent per kid as a ratio, so your undivided attention is on one kid, and one kid only (until they’re approaching 10).

You also want to prepare for the weather. If it’s windy, wear a leash so boards can’t blow away. If you live somewhere where the weather changes dramatically very quickly, take a wind breaker and some energy snacks in a waterproof bag. This isn’t an expedition, but being prepared for changing conditions is always a good idea.

Even if you’ve been going out a lot together and both of you are feeling comfortable, as I am with my son in his third season at six years old, I still keep an eagle eye on him. I don’t let him paddle away from me any further than I can reach in 5-6 seconds. I’m constantly doing visual checks on his life jacket, but I do it on the sly – I do not want him to know I’m being overly cautions in case he interprets that as ‘anxious’ – they’ll read you in a snap.

But I also do this by teaching him safety. Before putting on we always both say, “Safety first,” and I let him check my jacket on me as I check his so he feels like this is something we all do for each other. When his mother is with us ,I tell him he has to make sure she’s safe at all times – it’s empowering for him.

Paddle boarding is a pretty easy sport to learn, so I’m not getting into any specifics here on skills. Really this is about your attitude off and on the water, and how to approach getting started in a way that’s going to most interest your kid, while being (excessively) safe.

So get out there with your kid, and enjoy your paddle boarding.

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