With the appropriate safety gear and a calm body of water, you can start teaching your kids stand-up paddling at almost any age. When we talk about safety gear, this means everyone is wearing an appropriate Coast Guard-approved life jacket and a leash that is used to ensure the board won’t get away.
Small children who don’t have the coordination to control the board and paddle themselves and aren’t confident swimmers will need to start as a passenger on your board. In this case, you’ll probably want to choose a bigger and more stable board than you’d use on your own.
Depending on the child, they could be ready to put on a leash and paddle their board as young as five or six years old. But don’t be surprised if they’re not prepared for a few more years. The trick is to wait until they’re asking for their own. A child should be a confident swimmer and good at following directions before giving them their board.
Have Them Participate at a Young Age
Some parents opt to have their kids paddleboard with them as young as age three. At that age, kids wouldn’t be strong enough or be interested in paddling. However, they would know that riding on the nose of a SUP board is fun and that they are spending time with their parents. Let your child progress within their comfort zone — some kids may want to paddle on their own when they are 5; others may not be ready until they are older.
Have Realistic Expectations
Kids get tired, cold, bored, hungry, thirsty, whiny, and in general, kids are pretty unpredictable. If you only go 50ft on the SUP outing, then so be it. Not too many kids are interested in going out for super long or hard paddles, so change it up a bit. Paddle out to the middle of the lake for a swim, have a contest about who can do the best jump off the board, or sit down and hang out. It’s best not to force your child into doing activities that they don’t want to or feel uncomfortable doing.
Use your judgment on conditions — flat and calm is the way to go. If the conditions are rough and windy, it will be hard for them and also a little scary. Remember that the smaller you are, the bigger things like waves and distances look, so be aware that what looks easy to you might be scary to them. That 1-foot wave that seems small to you could look like a tsunami to them. A SUP leash and PFD are a 100% must-have, as is sunscreen, water, and a healthy amount of parental patience.
Use the Right Size Stand-up Paddleboard
A huge part of making sure that stand-up paddleboarding with your kids is easy and fun is making sure you have the right-sized board. To make sure it is stable enough, add their weight to your weight, and then make sure you have a board that will accommodate the total weight. If the board is too small, the ride will be unstable and harder than it needs to be — and that isn’t fun for anyone.
It doesn’t take much — a “you’re awesome” and “I can’t keep up to you” here, and there goes a long way. Make your child feel good about themselves, and remember that no matter how slow they are, they are trying their best. If you start to get overly pushy, critical, or too much like a crazy hockey dad, it will begin to tarnish the fun.