Tips for Paddling with Little Ones


To Kate, my four-year old, Sunday has always been known as “crepe day, paddle day” which is, to me, a far better name for the day after Saturday.  You can guess from the name what happens at our house.  Every Sunday morning, I make crepes, and then we go paddle.

I have been taking K paddling since she was 1.  Even for adults, paddling can be uncomfortable, scary, cold, and wet.  If you have a little kid on board with you, minimizing the discomfort is imperative, and if you fail, your day of paddling could really suck. 

Over the years, I have developed a bit of a system to keeping K happy on the water, most of the time anyway.  Follow this system, and odds are, you will not have an epic salty and sandy meltdown on your hands. 

Here are my tips and to-do’s for a fun day of standup paddling with little ones.

  • Check the weather and wind report before you go out.  If the wind is over 10 knots, forget it.  Go fly a kite or something.  When it’s cold or rainy, we still go out but we bundle up. 
  • If your kid will cooperate and wear what you tell them to wear (mine won’t), a kid’s wetsuit will make a big difference in keeping them dry and warm. 
  • Make sure your board is large enough and stable enough to keep you both on the board.  If you’re spending more time in the water than on the water, your board is not built for carrying children.  When K and I paddle, I use my large 14-footer, which is also 31” wide.  It’s a tank and I could take 3 more kids on the board without even noticing.
  • Invest in a small and low plastic chair to put on the front of the board.  I got mine at Ikea for $20.  It will keep your kid’s butt and legs off the board’s surface, and therefore, will keep them dry, warm, and happy. Just make sure the chair has a very low center of gravity so a wave doesn’t topple your toddler in the drink. 
  • Both of you should have PFDs (personal floatation devices) aka life vests.
  • When I get to the shore, I usually carry K and put her on the chair on the board.  In this way, K ends up seated on the board without a drop of water on her.  Dry and happy.  She usually goes the entire paddle without getting wet at all.  Of course, if it’s a nice, sunny, and hot day, let them get as wet as they want. 
  • Get your little one a “paddle” to “help” you.  We usually find sticks floating in the water and K likes to pretend the sticks are paddles.
  • Get out on the water, and whenever possible, search out the wildlife and point it out.  In Newport Harbor, where we usually paddle, we’ve got sea lions, harbor seals, stingrays, bat rays, baitfish, garibaldi, starfish, pelicans, cormorants, osprey, seagulls, great egrets, snowy egrets, dolphins, whales, and more. 
  • Make a stop somewhere and play.  K and I often stop at a beach within the harbor so she can run around, build a sandcastle, or climb some rocks.  We also have a park on the beach in the harbor so sometimes we’ll paddle to the beach, play, and then paddle back. So strap some sand toys on the board.
  • Bring a Camelbak (or the like) filled with fresh water.  I do this for two reasons.  One, both of you will get thirsty.  Two, sometimes K gets itchy from saltwater splashes on her legs, and once in awhile it causes a freakout.  So, I spray her down with the freshwater and we’re all good.  Also, it is a good idea to have a sweater in your camelbak for the little one just in case.
  • The secret weapon: You must have a Ziploc with a dozen jelly beans, skittles, or some other treat in your pocket.  Whenever things get squirrely, and K is starting to lose it, I remind her I have a treat for her if she can manage to get herself in order.  It always works.  I usually hand her the treat to munch on while we’re on the way back.
  • Back at the car, I have a jug of warm water.  I fill it up with hot water from my sink before we leave the house, and by the time we’re back at the car after a paddle, it’s just right.  I strip K down and she has a warm shower at the car.  I also have a change of clothes for her so we get her all warm and cozy and back in her car seat.  Then I can get the board on the car, get myself cleaned up, and we’re off. 
  • We cap off the morning with Starbucks hot chocolate.  As you can imagine, Mom enjoys Sundays too because she gets a well-deserved break while K and I are out on the water.

Have fun starting ‘em young!

One of the few times I could get K in a wetsuit!

2 thoughts on “Tips for Paddling with Little Ones

  1. So, you think start them out in the chair? I know the chair is a fairly addition to the rig, but I’m guessing you think it would have been good to have from the get go? I’m thinking its time to get JBoy out there soon.


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