GET YOUR KIDS “ON BOARD”
I swivel my head around at all the water surrounding me.
I gaze on in awe at the beauty of nature ahead of me, as I hear the lap of the water against my SUP.
And then I look down and see Love staring back up at me, in the form of tiny curls blowing in the wind and big brown eyes. Her name is JoZi Love. She’s my daughter, and she’s my favorite person to paddle with.
As a parent, I can think of nothing better than sharing the passion inside ourselves with our children. Instilling a love for nature, an appreciation for exercise, enthusiasm for exploration, and a sense of belonging to a beautiful planet is one of the most precious gifts we can offer them.
But there is a right way and might I say, an inappropriate way to share this passion for SUP in your children and have “Baby on Board” so to speak. Here are some tips to keep kids safe, secure, and loving it as much as you do.
Let’s talk safety first and foremost:
PFDs. (Personal Flotation Device)
Safety is of utmost importance. Period. No matter how glassy the water, no matter how calm the wind, and no matter how secure of a swimmer you are, every child on a SUP should have a USA Coast Guard approved jacket-style life-jacket on at all time. For infants under the age of 1, I highly recommend the infant jackets with the the collar that immediately will flip them onto their back and keep their head out of the water, in the event that they take a dive while you are paddling. (It happens). You also should have a Coast Guard approved jacket-style or inflatable waist pack as well, and never leave shore without a leash.
Lather baby up. You might be able to go out for long periods of time without turning into a lobster, but not baby. Kids need to lather up with at least an SPF of 30, 20 minutes prior to sun exposure so that the sunscreen has a chance to absorb into the skin. Then, depending on how long you are out with baby, be sure to reapply as needed.
Again, you may be able to go a long time without water, but not baby. Be sure to bring baby’s sippy, or plan to stay close to shore to stop and re-hydrate every 15 minutes. It’s a good idea to wear a small waterproof backpack if going out a distance from shore with sunscreen, sippy, and any other essential your little grom requires. Does baby have a medical condition or allergies? Don’t forget to bring inhalers, or epipens, even if you are only planning to tootle around for a half hour. You just never know, and you can’t be too cautious when it comes to being on the water.
TRAIN THEM WELL
Like I said, you just never know what could happen, and I have taught my daughter to blow her whistle if she can’t find mommy or mommy falls in. In the event that something might happen to me, or I pass out, or get injured, I have a whistle attached to my daughter’s life jacket that she knows to blow if she needs help.
As soon as possible, work with them on emergency situations. And keep working with them and reminding them. People and water do not mix and accidents can happen, so be prepared and prepare your child. A whistle is a great idea to keep on them and designate when they are to use it.
How Do You Introduce Them to the Board?
A lot of folks have seen me out with my little mermaid-in-training and asked me, “How did you get her to go out with you? My kid is afraid of water!”…or “I tried and they wouldn’t hold still.” Here’s some tips to try depending on the age of your child: Start by just placing the board in the water, and letting the child walk around it, hold onto it, climb on and off, and simply let them analyze it and study it for themselves.
Avoid forcing them to get on it. You never want them on it until they are ready or it will instill unhappy memories from the get-go. Instead, if they are hesitant to even get near it, you get on it and play around on it and say how much fun it is, without inviting them to try it. Just let them gradually come to you while you are having fun.
Another idea is to bring the board in the house and set it on the floor without the fin. Give kids the space to crawl around on it, pretend to paddle, etc. The more they are exposed to it being a safe, fun, flat place that offers a good time, the more they will want to join you on the water.
You could also plan a meetup with others you know that have kids on their boards. My daughter always loved paddling from 8 months old, but as soon as we went with a friend of mine who’s daughter stood up on her board, my daughter wanted to stand the whole time then too! Other kids are great encouragement and motivation for trepidatious little ones.
After the child expresses a relaxed, agreeable attitude around sitting on the board, or playing with it, start by inviting the child to sit around where your feet will stand and begin paddling close to shore on your knees or in a seated position right behind your child, expressing just how much fun you are having.
Depending on the age of the child you are introducing it to, some like to lay on their bellies, sit at your knees or feet, or stand and hold onto your legs if you are standing. For infants, as soon as they can comfortably sit up on their own, they can sit safely in between your feet and paddle with you, as long as you are comfortable with that.
How Do I Keep Them “on Board” with SUP?
Some kids need a lot of stimulation, constant attention, and need to expend energy, and SUPing with you could be too boring. Other kids are A-ok to simply sit and take it all in. In any respect, you want to create an experience with each and every stroke you take. Here are some tips how you can keep them as interested as you are in the sport.
Got a kid who needs constant entertaining and tends to bore easily? Perhaps consider taking a ball or a water toy you can toss onto the water and chase to make it fun for the child.
Avoid making it all about you enjoying a paddle with the kid just tagging along. You may have to stop and let them swim, or jump off the board, or even allow them to try paddling while you are sitting to share the responsibility. This will ensure a fun experience each time.
As soon as the child exhibits signs of being “done paddling”, or begins to whine, or cry, no matter how much you want to stay out, respect their request and head back to shore. Allow their first experiences to be a pleasant, satisfying experience, versus an unpleasant experience they won’t soon want to repeat.
Plan paddles with them such as foliage and nature discovery. Ask them to watch for and point out certain wildlife they might see.
Suggest destination paddles where you can head to a beach farther down and they know their is sandcastles to be built or beach combing to do once they get there.
Picnic paddles are always a fun things for kids to paddle out with you and look forward to. Have them help you prepare the food, pack it in a waterproof cooler and head out on the water to sit on the board and nosh at the perfect location.
Tell them stories as you paddle, about beautiful mermaids, and rough and tough pirates and create a magical story time as you paddle about. Perhaps, arrange ahead for them to bring a pirate hat, or a mermaid tail to play with out on the water.
The memories I have made so far on the water with my daughter are some of my favorite moments in time. Being in nature, in sunshine, in fresh air, away from the hustle and bustle of society with the one(s) you love….let’s just say there is no better feeling, and no better way to bond in my opinion. For yes, you are sharing the gift of something you are passionate about and most likely instilling it in them, but also the gifts not of health, movement, taking care of their body, appreciating nature, and of course, quality time. You know what they say, “They grow up so fast,” “Don’t blink or you’ll miss it,” “I miss those days.” And you’ll be saying it too someday. So make the most of every opportunity with your child as a chance to experience life together, live fully in the moment, and love deeper, …on or off the board.