Paddle Boarding with Kids in 10 Simple Steps

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Most kids would rather stare at a screen than go out and play. As a parent, you need to find an activity they can’t say no to, like stand up paddle boarding.

Studies show that stand up paddle boarding has incredible health benefits and keeps you fit. Not only will your children have fun paddle boarding, but they will also exercise in the process. And you get to bond as a family too.

For this to become a reality, you’ll need to teach your kids to paddle board first.

Before You Go

1. Manage Your Expectations

You love SUP and you could do it for hours—no question. However, don’t expect your child to be the same way, especially during the first few times. It’s not a Bootcamp.

Remember the point is to make paddle boarding enjoyable for kids so they will want to do it again.

Drop whatever expectations you have. Focus on having a good time. They agreed to come. Celebrate that for the time being.

Consider the possibility that they may get bored within the first hour. After all, they are just kids. One minute they are enthusiastic about an activity, the next minute they don’t like it anymore.

Let your goal be a fantastic experience for everyone. The rest will fall into place—hopefully.

2. Your Child Must Know How to Swim

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No one should ever step on a paddle board without learning how to swim, and certainly not a child. They will be surrounded by water and they can expect to fall many times. They should be comfortable in the water and on the stand up paddle board.

Your first task should be to make them love the water. This will take away whatever fear they have.

It is a safety issue too. Regardless of how good of a teacher you are, your kid will fall in. The same way you did when you were a beginner. And as they start getting better, they won’t always be paddle boarding next to you. They must learn how to swim and get back on the paddle board.

3. Get the Right Gear

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Your child will need a kids paddle board, paddle, leash, and a PFD.

Some stand up paddle boards are longer and have a higher weight capacity so you can paddle board with a kid. They can stand or kneel behind you and copy what you are doing.

Alternatively, get them their own kids board. A paddle board for kids is smaller and much easier for a child to maneuver. Additionally, many inflatable sup boards for kids come in fun colors and graphics which will make the young ones love them.

Next, get a kid-length paddle. Most adult-sized paddles are too long for children. Either adjust one of your paddles to their height and strength or get a smaller canoe paddle for your child to use.

To determine whether a paddle is the right length for the kid, have them stand next to it. With their arm raised straight, their wrist should be resting comfortably on the top of the paddle.

All the SUP accidents recorded in 2016 occurred when the victims got separated from their SUPs. At first, you may be teaching your child to SUP very close to the shore. But after some time, they will start going farther. You want to make sure that wearing a SUP leash becomes a habit even before they get into the water. It saves lives.

You will need to get your kids a child-size PFD as well. If your kid is below the age of 13, they must wear a USCG-approved life jacket, according to Coast Guard regulations. Everyone else should have it somewhere on the board. But how will a PFD help if you’re not wearing it? Like the leash, teach your child to always have on a life jacket, regardless of how old they are.

Lastly, put sunscreen on the young paddler. Fried skin won’t exactly make them fall in love with paddleboarding. Remember to keep re-applying because they’ll be in the water a lot.

4. Start in an Easy Location

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Maybe don’t get them started in windy situations and choppy waters. Confidence is a big part of stand up paddle boarding. They will achieve that in a condition that doesn’t seem intimidating. You also don’t want a place that is overcrowded or filled with boats.

Choose a sheltered location with calm waters, without waves, current, or motorboats. And one that is not too busy. Speeding water vessels create waves that may affect balance or cause the SUP board to flip. 

If you can access a calm, shallow lake, that would be nice. But watch the fins so they don’t touch the bottom.

The Teaching Part

5. Let Your Child Start off Kneeling or Seated

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Instead of moving straight to a standing position, it would help to have your kid kneel or sit first. Finding balance while standing is a challenge. And it is also good for them to get used to the SUP board and paddle. They could take a few strokes here, mastering how to push the water back.

It is at this point that you should teach them how to hold a paddle. This is one of those habits that you have to cultivate early. Show them where the stroke should start, where it should end, and how it should end. The basic stuff.

6. Practice Standing Up

Once you see that they are enjoying it, encourage them to stand up. Depending on how old they are, you can help or show them how to stand on their own.

Instruct them on where to stand and where to look. If they look at their feet or board, they will lose their balance. But if they focus on the horizon, they have a better chance of maintaining it.

They will probably fall in. If that happens, laugh together. Let them know that it’s another fun part of standup paddling and it will happen even when they are pros. There’s nothing like failing in SUP.

7. Teach Them the Proper Techniques

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Here is the thing: what you teach your little paddleboarder is what will stick. If they start with poor techniques, that is what they will hold on to. And it will be hard for them to unlearn. At this stage of learning, don’t let bad techniques slide—even when you think it’s adorable. Keep correcting them. It may take a while, but they will get it eventually.

The stroke should begin at the front of the board and end at the feet level. They should learn how to remove the blade from the water too. 

Teach them early to use the core muscles and not the arms muscles in the stroke. Using the arms may be comfortable with the first few strokes but the child will get tired quickly. They also risk getting hurt. Instruct them to keep their arms straight and crunch slightly with every stroke to engage the core muscles.

Now, SUPing is not just about going straight. Let them learn how to turn as well. Turning a board is easy. It involves making a large C stroke, from the nose to the tail, or vice versa.

One last thing, we have already established that falling can’t be avoided. Teach your child how to fall correctly and how to get back on their SUP board. The idea is to fall on the water and not on the board.

8. Give Lots of Compliments

SUP is not easy. Appreciate your kid’s effort. Their little muscles will be doing a lot of work—not to mention the techniques they have to master.

Appreciate what they are doing. Celebrate the small wins and give a compliment when they do something right. This builds their confidence and motivates them to do their best. And they will want to come back another day; which is what you want.

9. Don’t Go for Too Long

Try to listen to what the child is saying or observe them. If they are getting tired, take a break. Sit on your paddleboards and enjoy a snack as you float around. Don’t keep them in the water for too long. If they say they want to leave, it’s best not to push them—lest you push the love for SUP out of them.

It is okay if they only learn one thing in a day. You will have other opportunities to pass on more SUP knowledge and tips.

10. Have Fun

This is the most important part of paddle boarding with kids – fun for everyone.

You never know how an event will turn out with kids. There may be tears here and there, more so with younger children. But do your best to help everyone have a good time.

When they are struggling, encourage them to rest. If they don’t seem to be getting something, tell them there will be a next time.

They will forever cherish these memories.

Conclusion

Stand up paddle boarding with kids is a fantastic activity. So you are doing a great thing teaching your child how to SUP. Let them learn how to swim first for safety reasons. It will also make them feel comfortable in the water.

Get the right gear and find a calm location. In the water, encourage them and share in their enthusiasm. They will love the experience and ask to come back.

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