One of the best things about paddling is that it can be enjoyed by and adapted for people of all ages. With a small amount of planning and preparation, a day of kayaking or stand up paddleboarding becomes a fun and kid-friendly family activity. Our advice is to make sure there is plenty of supervision and support from capable adults, and to start slow, easing young paddlers into the sport gradually as they hone their skills.
Ideally, there should be one experienced paddler per child present on an initial family outing. Two-person kayaks or canoes are good options for providing easy instruction and assistance – if you don’t own them, consider renting vessels for your first trip with the kids. It is also possible for smaller, well-behaved children to sit atop a stand up paddleboard with an accompanying adult. Choose a calm, protected paddling location that you are very familiar with, and keep the route short. There will be plenty of time for longer adventures in the future. During the paddle, be enthusiastic, teach patiently, and take your time. We love to stop and observe wildlife along the way, or even practice entering and exiting our vessels while enjoying a swim.
Before you go, talk about the trip as a family and get excited. Also make sure that each paddler has a properly-fitting, US Coast Guard approved PFD to wear. Local outfitters can often make recommendations and help you purchase properly-sized gear for kids, including paddles. Pack the usual safety gear, adding extra lines for towing and/or rescue. Prepare for the weather forecast, which in Southwest Florida often means sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, and covering up with UV protective clothing. Water and snacks are also essential.
Most importantly, if your young paddlers become tired, be okay with turning around early. Over time, they will develop more stamina and will learn to understand their own strengths and limitations on the water, which is an essential skill for lifelong enjoyment of the sport.
Ocean Tribe Paddlers is a club hosted by Sanibel Sea School that helps the SWFL paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit oceantribepaddlers.org or follow us on Facebook to learn more.