Micah Kneidl 12/10/2018 | Posted in Dynamic Duo, Family Zone, Instructional, River Running, Whitewater, WW Disciplines
HOW TO: Dynamic Duo With Your Young Child
For years I have been passionate about tandem kayaking and have made many memories from the back (and front) of my Dynamic Duo tandem kayak. Today I continue to love the Dynamic Duo for so many reasons but especially for the ability to take my seven year old son down the river. This is our fifth season of kayaking in this two-person kayak on the rivers of Idaho. Here are some tips for others who would like to take their young children out on the water in a tandem kayak.
1) YOU SIT IN BACK.
You probably already know this but because you are so much bigger, you always sit in the back. The back seat favors the paddler with size, strength and experience.
2) THE GEAR!
I am hopeful you already knew that a properly fitting Coast Guard approved lifejacket is absolutely mandatory regardless of what kind of water you are on. Tighten your child’s lifejacket, and your own, very tight. Remember that it will loosen up as soon as you move around and get wet so re-tighten as necessary. If you are on moving water, a helmet should be considered mandatory. Rivers and lakes tend to have rocks in and around them so brain protection is a no-brainer. Proper clothing and insulation is extremely important (wetsuits are awesome for kiddos) and do remember that our youngsters get colder than us adults do. Please remember your quality sunscreen and chap stick. And forget the skirt, at least for a while (see number 6.)
3) CHOOSE WATER THAT YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY SURE YOU CAN BE SAFE (AND STAY UPRIGHT) ON.
My opinion is that if you want to take your young child down a river in a tandem kayak, you better be fairly experienced with whitewater kayaking. You want to have experience paddling the Dynamic Duo, you want to be familiar with the run you are paddling, you want to be able to style the run in the Dynamic Duo with or without a passenger every single time, and feel absolutely certain that you won’t flip over in whitewater. No young children want to capsize on a river and if for some reason it happens, you better be able to deal with the situation quickly.
4) REALIZE THAT YOUR CHILDREN ARE WORTH A SAFETY BOATER.
Regardless of your confidence level, which better be high, having an experienced friend or two paddling along is a smart choice. Paddle with people that realize the magnitude of taking our youngsters down the river and are ready to help in a second’s notice. Your best paddling partners will be the ones that keep a close eye on your precious cargo.
5) THE SNACKS!
Duh! Parent Pro Tip: If you want to make challenging outdoor activities more tolerable – bring snacks! I try to use healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables as an incentive to have a some chocolate or fruit snacks. Use your river knife to slice an apple and cheese on the hull of your boat or pull some sandwiches out of a dry bag. Bring a juice box and more than enough water to stay hydrated. Put your JK Nalgene in the water bottle holder in the front seat.
6) DON’T USE A SKIRT UNTIL LATER.
This advice is very important! We use a skirt only sometimes when in the tandem kayak. On lakes or even class 1/2 whitewater, there really is no need for a skirt because the splashes into the open cockpit will be minimal. I also don’t mind pulling over every few miles to stretch and empty the boat. While it’s not fun to talk about this – the skirt, or lack thereof, is important because perhaps the very last thing you want is your child upside-down in the kayak, unable to wet exit and be “trapped” as a result of using the skirt. Not using a skirt means that if you flip – they will fall out and be swimming, and while the danger of them drifting in another direction is very important to consider, it’s better than being stuck upside down for an extended period of time. When the time comes to use a skirt, have a solid plan should you flip over.
7) GET YOUR KID A PADDLE. OR DON’T.
Young kids don’t need a paddle. Chances are they might feel more comfortable gripping the sides of the cockpit rim. But as your child ages a bit and gains experience, it’s time to get them a stick. You’ll know when the time is right.
8) FIND THE RIGHT LENGTH OF PADDLE.
I once asked Emily Jackson what length of paddle to use and she gave me advice that I agree with – give them a paddle that can actually reach the water. They may not “grow into” their paddle until they are much older, but they need to be able to take a stroke. My opinion is that even the youngest of children should use a paddle over 160cm. By the time they are four feet tall they will probably want about a 180cm paddle.
9) BOOST THEM UP IN THE SEAT.
An extra Sweet Cheeks seat by Jackson Kayak will help your small child see more of the river and enable them to paddle more effectively. Even taller kids might feel as though they are sitting low and would benefit from some extra height in the front seat.
10) MAKE IT INTERESTING.
Wildlife. Geology. History. Landmarks. Rapid names. The river is an extremely effective classroom. They likely won’t forget the lessons they learn and with some luck, they’ll share what they learn with others on future trips down the river.
11) BE CONSERVATIVE AND MAKE SMART CHOICES.
Your babies have so many years to become the next extreme kayaking champion. But for now your most important job is to make sure that they stay safe and healthy while setting a good example for them and other paddlers. Use extreme caution and err on the side of safety always.
12) IT HAS TO BE FUN.
If it’s not fun, it’s not kayaking.
Now go make some memories!