6 Great Tips For Introducing Kids to Whitewater

Raising kids who aren’t afraid of the water, but instead are drawn to it, was pretty much a natural thing for us. We love the ocean, the pool, lakes and even our local rivers. When we first moved to Colorado in 2000, we didn’t even know kayaking was a thing, but we were loving rafting. So much that we bought a 16’ raft! It wasn’t until 2010 that we discovered kayaking and it was a life changer! Within 2 years, we had put our house on the market, started homeschooling our kids and began full time travel in an RV.

In fact, I tell everyone who inquires about kayaking that it will change their lives. We were at the Grizzly put-in a few days ago, and a man was amazed that we had such small children in their own kayaks. He had dozens of questions, from what boats are best, to how we teach our kids. After spending about 20 minutes chatting, as we were pulling out I told him, be careful, you could become nomads. He laughed and said, “Sounds perfect.”

As far as introducing kids to whitewater, there are many steps you can take while they are too little to be in their own boats, but are actually great stepping stones to instilling a love of water in your kids.

Live At the Pool

That’s right, spend a large portion of their super young years at the pool. Don’t push them to swim laps or even to practice strokes, just let them play. Seriously, by simply encouraging them to just have fun (and progress at their own speed) you will be ensuring your little ones love of the water.

Be sure not to overthink things and try not to ruin their fun with a lot of rules and warnings. Active children are learning children, don’t interfere too much with their shenanigans. Let them splash and jump and hold their breath and test their limits. My one tidbit of advice is to avoid those inflatable wings. Let your kiddos learn to float, to tread water or even to bounce off the bottom of the pool. There is nothing better than the feeling of self sufficiency! And, remember to always smile and have fun with them!

Fun, Lazy River Trips

We started out tubing on the Colorado River soon after we moved out here and it was so much fun. We just hit up a tire place and bought tubes for about $5 each. Of course, one tube would always be relegated for the cooler filled with water, soft drinks and beef jerky because our kids love language is FOOD!

Then we upgrade to an old (when I say old, I mean crazy old) 18’ raft from Ohiopyle and had it shipped to us. It needed to be inflated several times during each river trip, but it was incredibly fun. We’d float down the river, jump and do flips off the raft.

We would go crazy and there was never a trip where we didn’t end up in some huge water fight with other private rafts or even a commercial raft. We were renowned as the Pirates of the Colorado because Dan would jump on the other rafts in a full on water assault!!

Just a huge amount of fun was had on the river and zero pressure involved.

Jackson Duo

Last year we finally bought our own JK Duo after years of saying, “I wish we had a Duo.” It just makes so much sense for a family with young kids. It’s opened up the world of paddling to more than Class II for our youngest, Coby and enabled our 8 year old to get in on the New Years Paddle down Shoshone!

Any kid would love to sit in the front of a Duo, cruise down the river, sipping on a drink, eating some beef jerky (our river food) or even actively paddling. Seriously, a Duo is just the thing for anyone hoping to get their kids hooked on kayaking.

SUP

SUP’ing is a family affair, just like kayaking. SUP’ing also typically means calmer waters and fewer hazards. Unless you are Kady, Kenny, Dally or Cardy, then you can SUP Class IV, but the rest of us stick to II/III when on a stand up Paddleboard.

When we go SUPing with our Shaboomee friends we are all in the water more than we were on the board, which was actually epic fun. The older kids do flips into the water and rescue Elly and Coby if/when they swim out of their kayak.

We play chicken, we try to knock each other off, we even extend our pirate persona to SUP boarding. WE just choose stretches of river where there are no consequences, even if you swim, and where swimming equates to a great trip. As always a great trip means a love of the river is being forged.

Floating Rapids

The other thing we always do is let our kids play in features. We bring boogie boards, for them to surf. We let them swim through everything and anything. In fact, one of their favorite things to do is find the mystery move spots, which honestly scares me to death!

They also play a game appropriately named, “The Rock Game.” In this game, each player grabs as big a rock as they can hold and they all walk out into the river together. You hold on to the rock for as long as you can, keeping yourself below the surface because of the weight of the rock! They LOVE it, I, however, am not a fan.

The name of the game is fun. That’s it. Kayaking is fun and so everything leading up to kayaking should be as well.

Kayaking

And now for the gold…actually kayaking!

Starting kids out paddling is as easy as heading to your local community pool if they hold kayak sessions. The pool was an invaluable resource for our kids because they could learn in a totally safe environment. Paddle strokes, rolls, hand rolls, off-side rolls, you name it, they worked it.

Unfortunately, this is not a resource that is available to our younger crew. We simply jump in with both feet and find easy stretches of river for them to paddle. Stretches where swims simply mean a lot of hooting and hollering.

In fact, when Elly and Coby bail, they get a pack of Trident. I don’t know how or when this tradition started, but they swear I promised. WE practice ferrying, catching eddy’s, peeling out of eddy’s dropping into little waves and holes, and paddle strokes.

Before every run, we do a few practice rolls, even if they are too young to really understand the movements and we always let them bail when they ask. Like, always, because learning to be comfortable upside down is a really tough skill to conquer.

When you are ready to get on the river, make it fun, make it easy, make it short. We take our littlest down Grizzly on the Colorado River. It’s about 5 miles of Class II/III whitewater. They have fun, a ton of fun, and it’s over just a tad bit too soon, which leaves them wanting more, which is always a great thing.

Family Affair

Kayaking is one of those things we will always have in common with our kids. It is something we can always pick up and go do.
I can’t imagine a more exhilarating thing to share with my family. Having kayaking kids is keeping us all young and challenged! And, whether it’s a class II or a class V, it’s always fun to be around my family!! And fun is something we all have a huge passion for!!

Comments on “6 Great Tips For Introducing Kids to Whitewater”

  1. sasha ellis
    July 24, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    This is great! My husband is a kayaker and I want to get into it. We have a 14ft raft that we take ou as much as possible (not so much this summer….building a house takes a lot of time) We have a 2 yr old and a 5 yr old that love getting on the water. I have been trying to come up with ways to get them more and more comfortable with it because I would love to get them kayaking when I start. Great advice 🙂 we are in the glenwood area and often do grizzly and shoshone

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