How to Introduce Kids to Paddling

By: Emma Rova
8-minute read

There’s truly nothing like being out in nature and embracing the sights, sounds, and sensations of the natural world around you. If you’re on the lookout for a wonderful way to get your kids more interested in the great outdoors, water activities are a perfect place to start.

In contrast to other physical water sports, packrafting offers lower intensity levels and more versatility on various waterways. Are you interested in this adventurous outdoor activity? In this article, Aqua Bound Ambassador, Emma Rova, discusses the process of introducing paddling to 5-year-old Astrid.

Emma and Astrid paddling in Big Blue, their packraft
Smiles-per-mile: Emma Rova and Astrid paddling on a river near their home.


Inclusion and Balance is Key

Every third weekend, we [Aqua Bound Ambassador, Harald Born, and fiancé, Emma] are joined on our escapades by a small adventurer – Harald’s daughter, Astrid. She is a curious, kind and explorative—albeit a bit careful—kid.

We always strive to make sure Astrid feels included in everything we do. We let her decide if the things we like are things she would enjoy doing, too. We never force her to tag along, and we try to entice her with what we would have enjoyed as kids ourselves.

We make sure she feels like she is a part of the team—that her presence is important to us. We involve her in the planning stages of our adventures and have her tell us what she thinks is the best way to go, so that we then can discuss and positively turn what she has said into something to work from.

Being part-time parents and sharing custody, we can’t always maximize our weekends together by only going on adventures. And we wouldn’t want to make you believe we don’t enjoy spending time inside reading books, coloring or playing with Legos, because who doesn’t?!
Harald and Astrid coloring on the Manta Ray 4-piece blad
Astrid and Harald coloring her paddle on Easter.

We want to try and find a balance with Astrid, where she can decide how she wants to spend her time with us, because after all, we might not be the coolest parents from a kid’s point-of-view forever…

We wouldn’t want others to feel less than for not going on big adventures during the weekends or breaks. Small adventures decided by small adventurers are often the best ones, and also the memories that stick. We believe that happiness and curiosity is never forced, it can only be encouraged and supported.

For me [Emma], I have never been an extreme adventurer, but my father always made me feel included and capable of taking care of myself, whatever the situation. I have travelled to many countries and tried many different styles of adventure. I have explored who I am as a person and what I want to give back to the community. My favorite phrase my father told me while growing up, when doing something that scared me was: “What’s the worst thing that could happen? If you fail, you can always return home.” That right there gave me all the confidence and security I needed to lunge forward. Being a bonus mother, I feel like it is my time to finally give back all those things I was given, to a child who I adore and want to see succeed in whatever she puts her mind and heart to.

Emma as a child and her Dad in a snow fort
Emma and her dad, Hans, have been adventure buddies from the beginning - something she hopes to duplicate for Astrid.

How Did We Start Involving Astrid in Packrafting?

Before even getting to the water, we went through pre-paddle preparation and learning.

  1. Let your kids’ voices be heard!

    Kids love autonomy and being in charge, so we made her the captain of one of the boats! We inflated it in the living room and then we sang songs and practiced paddling together. She then proceeded to help us name the boat—Big Blue (fitting for the blue raft).
    1. Safety and the Right Gear Make All the Difference.

    Making sure Astrid got a playful and safe introduction in a place where she is happy was key. We always suggest familiarizing your kids with the watercraft—whether packraft, canoe, kayak or SUP board—on solid ground before taking to the water. Ensuring your kids are comfortable with the boat and its stability before getting on the water will increase their confidence when it comes time to get outside.

    Astrid and Harald also openly talk about safety (which I find so heartwarming). They discuss throw lines and PFDs—the color being Astrid’s choice—and about what to do when in the water. She recently started to swim a little bit but will need to be reminded this summer what it’s like to be in the water. The plan is to stay in calm waters until she feels confident and comfortable enough in the water.

    We talk about the weather and the importance of gear suited for different activities. We discuss immersion safety and bringing the right clothes and extra clothes. Astrid knows if we get wet, we always have dry clothes packed as back up, so we don’t have to worry about freezing!

    Harald also shortened the shaft of the paddle so that Astrid would be able to use it. It works great, but of course it’s more of a prop for the small captain.

    Astrid in her pink PFD
    Astrid captaining Big Blue in her pink PFD.
    1. Make it fun!

    Before Easter, we went on a walk to the arts and crafts store in the city, picked out a few colored markers that we wanted to use, bought them and made our way back home again. At home I put all the pens and a little bowl of candy on the kitchen table and Harald brought the Manta Ray Fiberglass paddle blades out. With wide eyes, Astrid chose the first color she wanted to paint her paddle with. Then she proceeded to try all the colors. Her choice of decoration was hearts—a lot of them. This was our way to combine creativity with paddling, while adding personality to the paddle. This made her feel like she made this paddle as a cool personal gadget and valuable tool for her adventures.

    Astrid holding up her colored paddles blade
    Astrid with her masterpiece.

    The best part is the paddle is hung on the wall in our home where we can enjoy memories of our creativity and adventures together—the ones that have been and the ones that will come.

    1. Involvement from the Start

    As previously mentioned, we involve Astrid from the start of planning our packrafting adventures. Here is our process for engaging her throughout the entire trip:
    • Firstly, she gets to pack her own bag (with some encouragement and guidance from us).
    • We also make sure to bring some snacks with us that she likes (candy in this case).
    • We scout the areas together In the case of Astrid’s first packrafting trip, we scouted some areas with trash floating around beforehand, and Astrid got to point out where we should go to collect it from nature.
      • This is a bonus (sadly) when living in a big city, there is always trash to be picked up. What we really appreciate though, is that Swedish schools teach the kids the importance of leaving no trace in nature, how we must pick up our trash and how harmful litter is for the environment.
    Astrid points out some trash on the banks of the river before heading out on her first packrafting trip
    Astrid pointing out some trash to be picked up from the packraft once out on the water.
    • So now we created a mission for Astrid, being a heroic captain of Big Blue, to pick up litter and help the environment!
    • This opened a door for us to talk even more about Leave No Trace with a water focus, and exploring the city from the view of the river.
    • We also talked about being helpful. In this case, picking up litter someone else has thrown away incorrectly, and how us picking it up leaves us humbler and kinder human beings.

    So that’s what we did; we tried to make it as easy as we could for all of us. We took our gear and headed to the city river to explore and be heroic!

    How Did it Go for Us?

    Arriving at the city river, just a few hundred meters from our apartment, I began inflating the pack raft while Astrid helped put together her paddle and get our PFDs out of the duffle bag. Harald kept our puppy, Java, company and snapped some photographs, while also making sure Astrid had something to drink while getting ready.

    Astrid waiting on the side as the packraft and gear are prepped before paddling
    Astrid getting ready for her packrafting adventure.

    Getting into Big Blue, Astrid had some help from Harald. The water was low, and she was hoisted down, giggling with excitement. Everything came together perfectly; it was the most natural thing, which might have to do with all the planning and all the little details we had incorporated along the way. Or maybe this was just a result of Astrid being the adventurer she is!

    We paddled for a while, around the riverbanks, across and along, back and forth. Astrid was really making an effort to paddle with her own paddle. She was focused and looked out for trash along the way. We managed to pick up quite a bit of plastic materials and we gathered them all in a big net bag in the middle of the raft between us. Astrid used her telescopic net to reach into the water and collect the trash with great success!

    Emma and Astrid paddling and picking up trash from the river
    Astrid and Emma picking up trash from the river in Gothenberg, Sweden.

    When her energy levels started to fade, we dug into the bow bag at the front of the raft and collected her little purse filled with her Easter candy. She then proceeded to happily munch on her candy while I paddled and picked litter on the last bit of our river trip.

    Meeting up with Harald at the end of our route, he lifted Astrid out of the raft, and she was so content with the adventure. She expressed how much she was looking forward to doing this again and again! Mission accomplished. We gathered our gear, packed it all back into the duffle bag and headed home. Astrid was beaming with joy and pride—and so were we!

    About Harald Born and Emma Rova

    Emma Rova and Harald Born

    We are partners and best friends. We always try and include each other in adventures we both might enjoy doing together.

    Emma is a marine chemist, born in the very North of Sweden. She loves water in all shapes and forms! Emma adventures on both land and water and has recently become a packrafter. She is the one who brings the glamping feel to our adventures.

    Harald works in the outdoor industry as a product expert and a field test coordinator. He is not new to paddling but has been more in the high mountains lately. He loves small adventures just as much as big ones. Harald is the one that brings his camera to our adventures.

    Together we try to make all adventures fun and interesting—not the least for Harald’s daughter, Astrid, who is 5 years old and already on the way to be a as adventurous as us. She is the one that brings all the candy to our adventures.

    All photos courtesy of Harald Born.

    Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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