These days, it seems that more kids are getting into kayaking. At least it feels that way from how many people have suddenly been reaching out asking if my old boats are available to hand-down! And since kayaking is an inherently socially distant sport, it makes sense.
When I was learning to kayak, just a few years ago, there were no kids classes where I live. So, basically, you could only learn if your parents or their friends were kayakers (or at least river guides like mine). Fortunately, things are changing quickly and there is starting to be more opportunity locally, at least for teens and tweens.
Below is a teen’s perspective on why kayak classes, camps, and clubs are so important – even for those kids whose parents could teach them themselves.
1. It’s just fun!
I know you feel like you have been stuck with your kids day in and day out lately. But your nagging suspicion is correct – your kids feel like they’ve been stuck with you day in and day out too. So, give yourselves a break and have them do a low-risk outdoor activity with someone else for a change. It’ll be so refreshing (literally), for everyone. Learning new kayak skills is fun, regardless of level, and it is even more fun with a group of kids. Also, joining a class is a great way to expand your circle of river friends and support local businesses.
2. Experienced teachers meet kids where they are
I think sometimes parents forget what it’s like to learn something for the first time. “Just follow me”, they’ll say. Often wherever the parent is headed is too advanced and it ends in tears. Unfortunately, once someone has a scary kayaking experience, whether on Class I or on Class V, they won’t want to try again. That’s what happened with my little brother – he refuses to kayak now (though he rows a mini-cat instead, so it’s all good, but you get the point). Don’t unintentionally ruin kayaking for your kids. Many kids benefit from starting off slowly, slower than you might think is necessary, and repeating the foundational skills over and over and over again. Kayak teachers know this and follow a good progression. They also know how to make it fun.
3. Learning from skilled teachers makes it easier to progress faster
I have had many different coached kayaking experiences – roll sessions, freestyle clinics, slalom training, overnight camps, club road trips, etc. And in every one I have learned very different skills and have grown in very different ways. Each instructor, coach, or mentor has had their own unique background in whitewater and thus a different set of skills from which to learn. They have all had one thing in common, though: they are amazing teachers.
3. Proper technique minimizes injuries
I kayak a lot. Like all the time. And so will your kids once they’re hooked. So it’s important to learn proper technique. It not only maximizes progress but it minimizes injuries; especially repetitive use injuries. I just turned 14, so I’ll be needing my shoulders for a long time. Many parents were self-taught kayakers and their technique may be out of date (sorry dad the C2C roll isn’t really a thing anymore and paddling a playboat isn’t actually playboating). It’s best to learn proper technique at the outset.
4. Safety, safety, safety
Let’s talk about safety. As you know, kids grow up fast and their kayaking may develop even faster. Before you know it, they will be boating without you. So, it’s important that safety not just be the responsibility of adults. Kids should learn to self-rescue and to rescue each other. Swiftwater rescue classes taught by swiftwater professionals is key. My parents insist that I get certified at least every two years. I strongly recommend that other parents insist on the same. It’s actually more fun than it sounds!
5. Taking it to the next level instills good decision making
And so here’s the tricky part. Especially for parents who get the progressing slowly, making it fun, and keeping it safe parts right. It’s knowing when you’re actually holding us back. It’s allowing us to progress further and faster than you think we can or should. It’s about allowing us to progress perhaps beyond you, beyond your comfort level. If you know my mom, you know that she struggles with this. In the right program with the right coaches, though, we learn to make decisions about what we are and aren’t ready for, for ourselves. That’s the thing about being immersed with peers in an environment that is led by amazing coaches. Although we certainly egg each other on, and we do go big and sometimes bigger, we respect where each of us is in our own skill development. We learn to make deliberate, calculated risk decisions – yes, even in the midst of friends cheering and GoPros running. Decisions that are right for us as individuals, for the group, and for the situation we find ourselves in in that moment. These skills, this level of self-awareness and self-confidence, transcends kayaking.
I know that some of you are in fact world-class kayakers who have the skills, time, and desire to teach your own kids. Your kids are very lucky. But even then, I can assure you that your kids would still benefit from going to a kayak class (or camp or club).