Paddling with the wee ones
Kids love paddleboards. They love climbing on them, jumping off them, paddling them, playing “King-of-the-Board”, floating around, and just being silly on them. When I bring a board to the beach, especially a calm beach, I have to be careful that my children and their cousins don’t steal it to us as an aquatic entertainment platform. Seriously, kids. Get off my board!
To keep the little guys and gals from hogging my SUP, I give a lot of rides. Is there a better way to get a kid into the sport? Plus, it gives me an excuse for more water time when on the beach. “Sweetie, I know it’s my sixth time out, but Miranda wants a ride!” Take note SUPers: this is a winning argument!
As much fun as it is, taking a kid on your SUP means you need to be extra safe. You are literally responsible for the child’s life, and that’s not something to take lightly. Don’t panic though. You just need to follow a few safety precautions to have fun.
Can you swim?
The first thing to ask is how well the child can swim. (Don’t take the child’s word for it. Ask the parent.) It‘s vital to know how well the child can handle themselves in the water. If the child falls in, are you going to need to do all the work or will the child be able to swim back over to your board? Being able to swim is also a good indicator of water comfort. A kid who can’t swim is more likely to panic than one who can. You notice this came before safety equipment? That’s because you want to know your passenger before anything else. You can still paddle with a kid who can’t swim, but make sure to know that before you go out!
As far as safety equipment goes, a PFD is an absolute must. Even if you’re in the surf zone where PFDs aren’t mandatory, they are for a child. No messing around here. You want the kid to float. If the child protests because PFDs aren’t cool, do not compromise. No PFD, no ride.
Make sure you, the adult, put the PFD on the child. It has to be snug. If the PFD doesn’t fit, don’t go out. Small children can slip out of things very easily. A loose PFD is worse than none because you can’t trust it. There are PFDs for small children that have a strap that goes from front to back between the legs. Attach that just loose enough for comfort. When a child gets older they can one without a crotch strap, but you need to determine that for yourself. I know my daughters graduated out of those when they complained the strap was hurting. This was about nine years old, but that will depend on the kid.
If you’re going into deep water, your kid should also be leashed. Does this mean you might need multiple leashes? Yes, one for the kid and another for you. A good setup is to use a coiled leash personally, but put the kid on a straight one. Kids should ride in front of you, so it makes sense that the wee one should have the longer leash. (Provided you’re both attached to the back of the board. If your board has a nose attachment, put the kid on that.) This also helps to keep the leashes from tangling. Another reason to keep the kid leashed has nothing to do with safety. Certain kids (like my son) will want to fall off the board deliberately. Oh boy, that fun! Especially over and over again! Let’s just say the leash makes “retrieving” your happy child easier.
Position on the board
As I mentioned before, the child rides in front of you. Kids tend to move around a bit, and you want to keep an eye on that. Use the ride to teach basic skills of balance and trim. If your board has stripes or graphics, use them as guides for your child’s position. Show that if you shift your weight just a little bit, the whole board tips. You might fall, but so what? You’re also teaching that falling is no big deal.
Lastly, and this might be obvious, pay attention to the conditions. Make sure the water is calm and there’s no weather on the horizon. Be aware of tides and currents that might overpower you. If you’re pushing through surf, make sure you can. A board with a passenger is slower, clumsier, and less stable. If you have any concerns, don’t go out. You want those early rides to be bonding experiences, not voyages of terror. You’re exposed to the elements too, and your little passenger will feel them before you. Wear sunscreen and bring water. I like to give my offspring the job of tending the water bottle.
If you have a waterproof camera (and float), make your passenger the trip photographer. You’ll get some terrible pictures but also some hilarious ones. That’s part of the fun. We all want to look cool on our SUPs, but nothing beats a photo that looks right up your nose! And don’t forget that video feature. If you’re lucky, you can get a record of both of you falling in. Seriously, you’ll cherish those memories and laugh. Remind the child also to hold the camera still during movie making, otherwise the videos might make their audience seasick.
Paddling with a young person is one of the best things to do on a SUP. And don’t think you’re not getting a workout! There’s nothing like a squirmy child to test your balance skills. You’ll be slow so the extra effort means more muscle power. But these are minor things. The best part about this is being with a child on the water. I’m going to be sad when my own girls are too old and too big for rides. Those are special moments. I encourage you too to have those moments. Make sure you’re safe, but don’t be afraid to collect some memories. You’ll always cherish them.