Teaching kids under 12 years how to paddle: TIP #3

(This article is the third of a series of five)
In the recent years, there has been an increasing amount of young paddlers. Teaching them to paddle requires a very different approach than teaching teenagers or adults. Here is a gathering of my top tips to anyone wanting to teach young kids how to paddle. They are dedicated specifically to kids under the age of 12 and focus primarily on making the experience of paddling enjoyable. This week’s tip focuses on making sure equipment and approach are adequate to young paddlers.

TIP #3 Speak the right language

Equipment. I like to believe that if I want my kids to enjoy a sport, any sport, they need to learn using proper equipment. Proper equipment does not necessarily mean the most expensive, but simply the most adequate for the purpose. Using a kayak and a paddle that fit a kid’s size is important; you wouldn’t want to paddle a bath tub with a shuffle (?!?) and so shouldn’t they. I have written on piece on kids’ equipment earlier on the Jackson Kayak website, and will therefore only stress on a game-changer trick this time: foam piece at the front of the cockpit. The idea is to fill in the gap at the front of the cockpit rim with a piece of glued foam (10-15cm long, alongside of the rim -see picture). This way, a kid can use a proper neoprene skirt and progress a lot faster in whitewater; the skirt will stick just enough to serve its purpose, but it will pop instantly as soon as small fingers pull on it OR in the event that the kid capsizes and forgets to pull the grab loop. When the kid grows up and get accustomed to pulling the plug, you can eventually shape down the piece of foam to get a tighter fit. This trick was passed on to me by a good friend (and owner of Galasport): it has changed the way I teach kids to kayak (and consequently killed the debate on ‘spray skirt or no spray skirt’) and fully removed the stress I had as ‘lifeguard’ when running whitewater with my kids. There is nothing more traumatizing than watching a kid struggle upside down unable to exit a boat. Luckily, you can now prevent that.

Keep it short and simple. ‘Follow my sweet line’ is NOT what I mean here! Teach kids how to read water and choose lines, but keep your explanations to the bare minimum. By that, I mean what is strictly necessary to know in order to achieve a task, for example of going from point A to point B. It is useless, and highly confusing for a kid to describe everything in the surroundings unless it has a specific function for the chosen task. Same goes for any type of drills you do with them. Kids live in the ‘right now’; they couldn’t care less about the detailed plan of your thoughts, trust me!

Language. Yes, you can use proper terminology, but show them what that means. For example, to explain current, eddies and eddy lines, I once created a ‘little man’ made of rocks I found on shore and placed it in slowly moving water. I had kids walk to me and feel the water in front, on the sides, and behind the ‘little man’ while I told them what the different parts were. Similarly, you can teach proper leaning when entering the current by standing in the water, holding the back of their kayak and showing them what good and bad leaning does to their boat. Again, kids are intuitive, so let them feel what you mean. As most kids usually know a thing or two about biking, you can also refer to leaning into the current as the same lean they would use when turning on a bike. Keep the explanations to the simplest possible version; speaking of ’45-degree angle to the current’ and ‘15% lean when hitting the eddy line’ means a whole lot of nothing to a kid. ‘Paddle towards the moving water, look where you go (which also naturally leads to ‘leaning in’) and paddle all the way to the calm water below’ is a lot simpler to understand. Remember also that not all kids know their lefts and rights, so show them the way, or simply refrain from using those words as kids can quickly get confused between ‘river’ directions and ‘actual’ directions.

Comments on “Teaching kids under 12 years how to paddle: TIP #3”

No comments, be the first to comment!

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.