Paddling with Young Children: These Dads Weigh In on Why and How

One of the great privileges of parenting is the opportunity to pass on our love of the outdoors to our children, including paddling…

Dan and Ashley Arbuckle family
Dan & Ashlie Arbuckle with their paddling family

Children have an inborn affinity for nature. Encouraging them to develop that from a young age is one of our great joys. I asked these dads to tell us why and how they give their young children exposure to nature, especially in a canoe or kayak.

Calvin Peters Paddles with His Two: Jane and Aristaeus

“My daughter Jane is 3 and my son Aristaeus (Air-is-tayus) is 18 months. They were both canoeing at around 9 months and paddleboarding closer to 11 months.

father and daughter paddling
Calvin Peters and 3-year old Jane

 

“It's important for us to be able to paddle with them because it keeps Mom and Dad sane! We love the outdoors and think being active is vital when it comes to personal health.

“We take environmental stewardship very seriously; we want to be able to protect and preserve the natural gems we’ve discovered. One of the best ways to ensure protection and respect continues is to encourage kids to understand the importance of this from an early age.

“I do a lot of short SUP paddles with my kids on board, but have really enjoyed introducing my daughter to overnight canoe tripping.

“Seeing nature through her eyes gives me a new appreciation for these areas that I’ve traveled countless times. I find myself seeing new things that I would have never noticed on my own.

“Her enthusiasm and curiosity is contagious and has me enjoying areas that I would have never revisited on my own.

“Jane loves exploring and learning and those opportunities are endless. On lazy trips we find ourselves stopping to admire everything possible. We'll watch banana slugs for what feels like an eternity, listen to owls call at night, wait for a heron to catch its lunch, and do our best to sneak up on fish under-boat.
 

father and daughter in their tent
Jane and Calvin relax in their tent

 

“She also loves anything to do with food. (Anytime you're paddling a distance from shore or need to cover some miles make sure you have lots of snacks!)

“Jane is very involved in food prep and planning. She chooses the mix for our oatmeal and gets to do all of the scooping and measuring beforehand. All of the stirring is her responsibility (with a little supervision). Being involved makes it feel like this is her trip, not Dad's. She also helps with tent set-up, bed making and other camp duties.

“We're heading to Maui in the spring and I'm hoping to get my kids SUP surfing with me. Hopefully all three of us can ride waves on my board.”

(Calvin is on the sales staff at Western Canoeing & Kayaking, located in Abbotsford, BC)

Dan Arbuckle Paddles with His Three: Ethan, Kenzie and Jackson

“I started paddling with my first son when he was 3 months old. My wife left me alone with him for the afternoon, and I was going crazy sitting inside trying to keep him happy. So I hatched a plan to sneak him out in the canoe for an hour or so during his nap time.

“He fell asleep on the way to the lake. Still asleep in his car seat, I gently tucked him into the bow of my canoe and shoved off. We paddled around for an hour or so and I enjoyed some fresh air and looked forward to the future when he and I would paddle in tandem on some epic adventures.

“After we were safely off the water and home I texted my wife a picture of our first excursion, and reassured her that we were safe and off the water. I received some hate about the photo, due to him being buckled into a car seat with no PFD. But we were on a shallow piece of water that I paddle almost daily for work. Reckless by some standards, but I felt the drive to the lake put us in more danger than the adventure itself.

“Now Ethan is 7 years old and we often paddle together in our tandem canoe or on SUP's. He's joined me on two extended canoe trips in the California Delta.

ethan paddleboards
Ethan Arbuckle mans his SUP

 

“Sharing my passion for paddling with him has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.

“My other two kids started paddling with me at about 10 months old. As soon as they could sit up and comfortably wear an infant PFD.

“Kenzie, now 4, paddles with me most often as she's a bit of a Daddy’s girl. I recently brought her along on a trip we took to Lake Powell this October. We spent 5 days paddling canyons and sleeping in the sand. She didn't complain once. She represents the perfect blend of my wife and I—loves to get fancy and tromp around in the mud.
    
“Our family spends so much time outside. Paddling with them wasn't so much starting them young—it was more of just bringing them along. I've met a few folks who stop paddling when they have kids and pick it up again when their kids are in their teens. If you ask me, they miss out on some of the best memories being a parent has to offer.

“Time spent reflecting in nature with my kids has been the back bone of our relationship. No matter how hard or busy life gets, these moments on the water stop time and bring us closer together.  
    
“My favorite adventures with the kids are the quick ones close to home. Sure a big epic trip may be a defining moment of a summer, but the quick 2-hour paddle around the lake after school a couple of times a month with be the defining moments of their lives.

“During these mini-adventures we explore the water that’s in our own back yard. We learn the plants and animals that share our local waters. We park the boat and climb trees, inspect beaver dens and explore "uninhabited" islands.

“Conversations seems to flow and happen naturally in this setting. The noise and pressure of daily life melts away, and both the kids and myself seem to be at our best. These little adventures bring a tremendous amount of balance and value to my busy work and family life.

dad and kids on sup
Dan on his SUP with Kenzie and Jackson

 

“These times have paid tremendous dividends for our family. We can discuss things without the pressure of the outside world weighing on us. The kids enjoy some one-on-one time with my wife and I without distraction. We get to share our passion for nature with them, and know it will impact and shape their lives forever.

“What do our children like best about family paddling trips? Adventure and snacks! I think they like being outside, swimming and exploring. We often let them set the pace—usually with lots of stops and beaches and blackberry patches—so they don't get overly restless.

“In 2018 we have a couple of large paddling trips planned. The first is a 5-day paddling trip around the California Delta. We do this trip every February during the off season, which is the best time to kayak or canoe the Delta. All the pleasure boats have been parked and the entire Delta is full of migrating birds who call the 1,100 miles of waterways home for the winter.

“We also plan to head back to Lake Powell in the fall with the entire family and explore the Escalante Arm. After seeing my photos, my wife and some of our family friends decided we all needed to go back and explore together. So 2018 there will be two families with a total of 5 kids—Wish us luck!

(Dan owns and operates Headwaters Kayak in Lodi, California.)

Hopefully Calvin’s and Dan’s stories inspire you to get out on the water with your own children, whether now or in the future!

It’s so important for our families—as you’ve just read. And it’s also important for the future of paddling sports. So…happy paddling!

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