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Kayaking and Rafting with kids…a progression

I was reading in the paper the other day what a battle it is to keep kids fit and expand their interests beyond video games and sedentary pursuits. While I can’t speak for what other parents are doing, I can relate what my family has done to keep our child engaged in healthy outdoor activities (because I’m one of the owners of a rafting and kayaking store, I’ll stick to those activities. But we are also avid hikers and bikers). We’ve discovered that starting them young (before they can walk even !) was a key. Of course there are considerations that will make it enjoyable for the young ones, i.e, plenty of snacks and appropriate clothing, games to play etc. It’s not a good idea to start out on a 20 mile paddle in rough water either. Or a multi-day rafting trip. I remember when our daughter was two and a half we thought she was ready for a 4 day Rogue river trip. In the first Class 2 riffle she got splashed and said…”I want to go home !” . My heart dropped, but it only got better after that.

Equipment keys: A good lifevest (yes, I know they will outgrow it very quickly, but you can always pass it on). I am amazed how some parents that come in the shop are reluctant to buy a comfortable and safe vest because “they just outgrow it”, yet they’ll buy the best vest for themselves and the family dog. Don’t wait until the morning of put-in to have your child wear the vest for the first time, only to have it turn into “I don’t wanna wear it!”. Avoid that battle by wearing them around the house…everyone, Mom, Dad, Siblings, the Dog. That way your child gets used to it. They associate the vest with something fun. And when they outgrow that vest, pass it on to another sibling, or friend. Or give it to a community group, or sailing club or a thrift shop. Someone else’s child will be safe on the water.

Invest in good thermal clothing, and splash gear. Admittedly, I have access to pretty good pricing for kids gear, but my daughters’ Kokatat splash jacket and pants have really made the difference. She also uses Mysterioso fleece for layering. You can use also paddling clothing for skiing, cycling etc.

What kind of trips can you start with ? Well, if you’re fortunate enough to have your own gear, there’s a variety of options for you. But I would start on something relatively easy, like a day trip with good access. You may be a solid Class 5 boater, but you’ll be amazed at how gripped you’ll get on Class 3 if your family is sitting in the boat. A day trip is good so your kids can get used to the rhythm of a river trip. A good friend of mine used to organize a get together on the Trinity river in N. California for river guides and their kids. It featured Class 2-3 water, car camping and general mayhem for kids and parents. If someone wanted to stay at camp, or make the day little shorter, it was no problem. Since then, we’ve graduated to longer trips. But the kids always look forward to seeing their river buddies every year. (drop us a line if you want the details on this run)

That’s enough for now. But I’ll be sharing more rafting stuff later. I think I’ll post some stuff on kayaking next.
–Jeff

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