Fifteen of the 50 fondest childhood memories people tend to have involve spending time outdoors in nature — and in most cases, spending time outdoors in nature with your family. Paddle boarding isn’t on the list, but that’s probably only because this amazing water sport didn’t explode in popularity until fairly recently.
Do you want to give your kids happy memories of outdoorsy family bonding time? Do you want to show them just how capable they are, and how independent they can be? Do you feel it’s important to lure your children away from all that excessive screen time that’s become part and parcel of modern life — but without making them feel like they are being punished? Is your kids’ physical development and fitness a top priority for you?
Whether you were already a stand up paddle boarder before you became a parent, or you’re hoping to explore a super-exciting hobby with your kids as you both learn to SUP for the first time, there’s no question that paddle boarding is a great adventure for the whole family.
Of course you want to go paddle boarding with your kids! The only question is how to teach them, and we’re here to answer that.
- Essential Boxes to Tick Before You Even Consider Paddle Boarding with Your Kids
- What SUP Should You Get for Your Kids?
- What Other Gear Do You Need to SUP with Your Kids?
- Where to Start Paddle Boarding with Your Kids
- Parting Wisdom from Parents Who’ve Been There, Done That
Essential Boxes to Tick Before You Even Consider Paddle Boarding with Your Kids
Paddle boarding enthusiasts often swear that paddle boarding is for literally anyone, but the sticklers among us can’t help but point out that that’s not really true. To stand up paddle board, you have to be able to stand up (and keep your balance). You have to be able to swim, and rather proficiently.
If you’ve never seen kids on SUPs in action, we’d invite you to head over to Google, and do an image search for “paddle boarding kids”. It won’t take you long to find pictures of really little children, some of whom are definitely not out of diapers yet, proudly and happily riding a SUP with a parent.
That’s possible, in shallow and uber-calm waters, with a great personal flotation device, and with close parental supervision, and it’s probably a lot of fun for the little ones. That’s not what this guide is about — we’re here to talk about teaching kids to ride a SUP of their own. With close supervision, of course, but by themselves.
For that to be a success, your kids have to tick all the right boxes. We’d suggest not taking your kids paddle boarding until you can say with confidence that your family is ready. Your child may be ready to try stand up paddle boarding if:
- Your child is a proficient swimmer. Falling off a stand up paddle board is inevitable. This one speaks for itself. No child who can’t swim really well is ready to ride their own SUP, although they may be able to be a passenger on your stand up paddle board in the right conditions.
- Your child is enthusiastic about trying stand up paddle boarding. You can force a nature-hating child to go on a week-long camping trip quite safely, but stand up paddle boarding is different. The sport requires concentration and determination. If your kid is terrified of stand up paddle boarding, or thinks paddle boarding is the most boring thing ever invented, you probably won’t meet your primary goal of having fun. More than that, though, you have a safety issue on your hands. Only go paddle boarding with a child who wants to.
- You have the right gear for your child. More about that later, but besides a good SUP and the right paddle, that also includes a properly-fitted personal flotation device.
- You are prepared to go at your child’s pace. If you’re an experienced paddle boarder, it’s important to keep in mind that your child is a novice, and even if they weren’t, they’d be unlikely to be able to keep up with you. Your child looks up to you and wants to make you proud, so they may not tell you they’re exhausted, even if they are. (For the record, we do realize exactly how condescending this one sounds, but it’s important nonetheless.)
- You have the ability to practice stand up paddle boarding often, which means a safe and shallow lake somewhere nearby, or a commitment to taking trips often.
- You know your child to be a responsible and safety-conscious person. Sure, your kid goofs around, but when push comes to shove, they trust you completely and always follow safety instructions.
Here’s something else that shouldn’t need to be said, but which we’ll say just in case — only go stand up paddle boarding with your own kids. Unless you’re very experienced in teaching other people to SUP (in which case you wouldn’t be reading this) and you’ve obtained consent from another child’s parents, never attempt to teach your kids’ friends to paddle board. You don’t want that responsibility.
What SUP Should You Get for Your Kids?
An adult-sized stand up paddle board will be unwieldy for your child-sized little one. Unless you’ve got teens, in which case this guide can still help you, your kids will need their own SUP.
Some of the best paddle board for kids on the market right now include Bluefin Cruise Jr 8’, Honu Airlie 8’6, and (for teens) iRocker Nautical 10’6. There are plenty of other great boards for younger and older kids, too — just make sure that the board is the right size and weight for your child, and where possible, have your child help you pick a paddle board for them.
Most of the best boards for kids already ship as a bundle, and will therefore include a decently-sized paddle. If the board is great but the paddle doesn’t quite work, you will want to look into getting them set up with a great paddle, too.
What Other Gear Do You Need to SUP with Your Kids?
In addition to a SUP leash — which needs to be worn at all times — a properly-fitting personal flotation device is indispensable. If your child is 13 years old or younger, that means a USCG-approved life jacket. Teens may choose a belt pack instead.
With that, you’ve got the basics covered. You’ll be close by the entire time. Do always bring sunscreen and a filled water bottle, though, and get your child their own dry bag.
Although you definitely risk brutal cellphone murder if you allow your child to keep a phone in their dry bag while SUPing, we’d suggest you accept this occupational hazard. If anything were to happen, at any time, you’d want your child to be able to call for help. Maybe get them a cheap dumb phone for the occasion.
Where to Start Paddle Boarding with Your Kids
Anyone new to stand up paddle boarding should begin in a quiet location, without too many onlookers (which can be distracting) or other vessels (especially speedboats), and in calm, shallow, and predictable waters. A quiet local lake is ideal, but a sheltered bay can do the trick too.
These kinds of conditions aren’t just essential for safety, although they definitely are that too. They also allow your novice paddler to gradually begin confidence, which ensures they’ll look forward to going paddle boarding again.
How to Teach Your Kids to Stand Up Paddle Board
Assuming you’ve got everything else we’ve already mentioned covered, you’re now ready to get to the exciting part. Run this process through your mind a few times before you jump into action, and you’ll be golden.
Allow Your Child to Get Used to the SUP
Your first session should take place in safe and shallow waters. At first, simply show your child how to kneel on the SUP — an easier thing to master than standing up. Show them how to work the paddle, and give feedback about their technique the entire time (but keep the positive vibes going).
Keep working on their paddling technique until they’ve got the basics down. Just moving through the water in a kneeling position will give your child confidence.
The next step would lie in getting your kid to stand up on the SUP. Allow your child to watch you do it first, quite a few times if necessary, and if you think it will help your particular child, narrate the entire process.
Say, for instance, that you are getting up slowly, placing your feet parallel to one another at a width that matches your hips, and explain that you’re correcting your stance to keep your balance.
Now, depending on your child’s age and skill level, get into the water yourself and help them stand on the SUP, or just watch them attempt it on their own.
Is it not going quite the way you’d hoped, or your child had hoped? If you’re a seasoned SUPer yourself, maybe share some stories about your early fails. If you are new to paddle boarding yourself (in which case we hope you have an experienced friend with you), commiserate about the challenge.
This encourages a growth mindset. Stand up paddle boarding isn’t as easy as it looks, and it’s good to acknowledge that.
Keep Things Fun
Learning to SUP should be a rewarding and positive experience. In all but safety, which is non-negotiable, it should be low-pressure. Laugh, enjoy your surroundings, and spend time bonding.
Practice Falling Off and Getting Back On
In Judo, falling is the first thing they teach you. SUP is a little different, but it’s still important to consciously teach safe ways to fall and get back on the SUP early on in the learning process. Show your kids how to fall to the side of the board, while resisting the urge to brace with their hands. Invite them to try it and get back on the board. Repeatedly.
Keep Working with Your Child to Perfect Their Paddle Boarding Technique
Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing well, and bad habits are faster to build than to break. With these truisms in mind, please do show your kids proper paddle boarding techniques, rather than allowing them to keep practicing poor form that almost works, but not quite.
Show them how to make strokes with the paddle, and if the child isn’t getting it right, keep working on that. Show your child how to make their SUP turn, and keep practicing.
Teach Your Child How to Care for Their SUP
Inflatable stand up paddle boards can be left inflated for a few days, but should ideally be deflated after every use. When you’re done with your SUP, it also needs to be cleaned, allowed to dry, moved out of the sun, and stored safely. Taking these steps will greatly prolong the SUP’s lifespan and teaches your child that water sports aren’t just about fun, but also about responsibility.
If your child is old enough to enjoy stand up paddle boarding on their own SUP, they’re also old enough to help inflate, deflate, clean, and store the stand up paddle board.
Keep Having Fun
Is everything going well? Great! You may eventually decide to venture out onto slightly more challenging waters, or to try SUP fishing or SUP yoga with your child. The real magic happens after the basics are mastered. Enjoy the journey, and revel in the fact that you’re building powerful memories together.
Parting Wisdom from Parents Who’ve Been There, Done That
- Set a good example. Don’t just make your kid wear a personal flotation device. Wear one yourself, too.
- If you’re a total beginner yourself, don’t teach your child to SUP. Have a friend or an instructor present, ideally one for each novice.
- If you have multiple kids, each one should be supervised equally closely (regardless of age). Two parents can go SUPing with two kids, but if you have more than two kids or you’re solo, it’s safer to set your SUP sessions up to have one experienced adult per new paddler. The other kids can watch from the shore and take turns.
- Keep a close eye on weather conditions and stop SUPing if it gets windy.
We somehow managed to make paddle boarding with kids sound like much less fun than it actually is, because safety should come above all else — but if you follow these steps, you’ll be having the best of times before you know it.
Not only will your child probably look back on the times you spent paddle boarding with them with great fondness, SUPing with your child is also bound to show you what an amazing and responsible young person your kid is turning into.