Kayaking for Kids

By Andrea Brown Ross | Photography courtesy of Adventure Tours International and Andrea Brown Ross

Kayaking has surged in popularity among outdoor enthusiasts over the last 10 years with 16 million people in the U.S. now described as avid kayakers. And it’s not just adults who want to participate in this environment-friendly activity. Kids are learning to paddle, too.

When our 9-year-old boy consistently asked for a kayak for more than six months, Santa delivered last Christmas. Living on a farm, we are accustomed to outdoor activities and being in nature, but kayaking was unfamiliar to my husband and me.
We had no experience with the activity, but we do we have various-sized cow ponds where my son can choose to kayak as his experience and ability increase. But what about families who do not have easy access to bodies of water?
John Huskey, owner of Quapaw Canoe Company, based in Clarksdale, Mississippi, offers practical advice for parents with youngsters new to kayaking.
“Rent a kayak first. Have your child try it out. You may not want to make a splurge until you see how your child likes it,” he shares.
Huskey also suggests attending “demo days” at a local sports store. This gives the child and the parents an opportunity to observe proper techniques, to see appropriate kayak sizes for different ages, and – most importantly – ask questions. Ideally, the child would have someone with experience give them guidance and pointers in a one-on-one situation. If that is not possible, numerous demonstrations are available online.
Huskey suggests tips and tricks that beginning kayakers need to know.
When kayaking, he says, feet should be firmly planted against an adjustable footrest and the knees up. The motion to steer should be a full body movement with your torso. This will cause less wear and tear on the arms and works out the whole body.
“Think like a fish. When steering a kayak, pushing hard sends you in the opposite direction. Hold the oar with one hand firm and the other loose,” he says. He also suggests not learning on a kayak with a rudder.
“Definitely start on a calm day. I wouldn’t recommend trying it when it’s windy and so challenging. It should be a safe, controlled environment in a small non-moving body of water,” he continues.
And such has been our experience. Our son started on the living room floor near the Christmas tree. He simply sat atop his kayak practicing moving the oar. As the weather warmed, we eventually allowed him to venture out in ankle deep water in a small fishing pond near the farmhouse.
As his confidence grew, we soon allowed him on a large cow pond with depth in some areas around five feet. Wearing a life jacket is a must, as well as being accompanied by an adult. He knows where the pond’s deepest parts are located, and he avoids them.
Meri Smith of Como, Mississippi, recently began kayaking with her boys ages 14, 13, and 8. While her boys enjoy a variety of sports and outdoor interests, kayaking is a common thread.
“It started about two years ago. I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors, but my experience with outdoor water recreation was limited to white water rafting as a teenager. When my father gave me a heavy, old metal canoe, I was up for the challenge. I took my two youngest boys to a local slow-moving creek, and we canoed for a couple of hours,” she shares.

While she did rely on local bystanders to help her get in and out of the creek with the heavy canoe that first time, they had such a good time they decided to they wanted to continue exploring various waterways. Instead of lugging the old canoe around, they purchased kayaks from the sporting goods section of a national retail chain store. They quickly began planning trips around the Mid-South.
“My youngest son was about 6 years old at the time. We started in the cow pond to get him comfortable sitting atop the kayak,” she shares.
His first experience in moving water was at Black Creek in Brooklyn, Mississippi.
“We went with a large group of extended family of women and kids. No matter where we go or who we are with, we use a buddy system. We also give each other time to catch up if need be,” says Smith.
Smith occasionally goes on girls’ trips kayaking and camping, such as the popular Buffalo National River in Arkansas. This allows her to test the waters and see if that particular destination would be something safe and fun for her family.
“I think it’s important to know the depth of the water. It may be high due to flooding, or visa versa. It may be so low, standing up and walking in the water may be necessary in some parts. Also, having prior knowledge of any rapids we may encounter helps me plan accordingly,” she explains.
This past summer offered a handful of opportunities to kayak. Bear Creek at the Tishomingo State Park was fun for a small group according to Smith. And the entire family enjoyed a trip near Alley Spring in Eminence, Missouri.
“My husband loved his first trip! We planned our trip for about six-to-seven miles. It took us about four-to-five hours to complete,” she remembers. “We took a cooler with us and pulled off to the side to rest and snack as we needed. The weather was in the upper 70s, but the Ozark water is cold.”
She says that her boys prefer to kayak in the clear water where they can see the bottom and the fish.
Smith offers the following suggestions: “Wear water shoes, especially in the rocky Ozarks. They are fairly inexpensive and can be found at local outfitting companies and general stores. Carry floatable dry bags or a dry box for items like towels and cell phones. Take a cooler with drinks to stay hydrated on longer trips.”
Check with local outfitting companies when planning a trip. Kayak rentals are available, and many outfitters will move your vehicle to a designated area when ending your trip with your own kayak. They typically charge a minimal fee.
“Have fun!” says Huskey. “It takes time. Expectations shouldn’t be too high or too soon. It’s like riding a bike. The more time you spend doing it, the better one will be become.”
He cautions,” Don’t get on a river, especially the Mississippi River. You must start slow, and learn how to steer. It may be years before someone is ready to take on something as fast-moving as the river.”
Sound advice. For now, we’ll stick to the cow pond and kayak till the cows come home.


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