6-minute read + 10-minute video
Our New Zealand friend, filmmaker Deane Parker, loves getting people on the stunning rivers of his home country in packrafts.
Here he gets personal, sharing experiences with his own family, and how he and his wife have raised their three children to love paddling.
Deane’s two older children, Zoe and Leithan
Outdoor adventure and immersion in the natural world is healthy and fun for all of us, no matter our age. It’s vital for this generation of kids, most of whom spend the vast majority of their time indoors, often in front of screens.
The best way for kids to grow up loving nature and outdoor experiences, like packrafting and other paddle sports, is to be exposed to it over and over again in fun ways by their parents.
Deane’s family is a great example of this.
Why Packraft with Your Kids?
“I discovered packrafting when my eldest was nine, but by then I had already taken all three of my kids rafting regularly,” Deane says. “My opinion is they [packrafts] are a great way to introduce kids to the virtues of river running.”
Packrafts are easy to manage in the water for even very young children. They’re extremely light and portable. Most kids can easily carry their own from home to car and car to water, or haul uninflated in a backpack.
Deane’s son, Eddy, going solo for a stretch at just four years old
When deflated, packrafts are easy to store and transport. There’s no need for a trailer or rooftop carrier, even if everyone in your family has their own boat.
Packrafts can help you discover and explore places that are otherwise inaccessible. Doing this as a family creates loads of wonderful experiences and memories.
Packrafting and other outdoor activities have known health benefits for both kids and adults, especially when done regularly:
- The physical activity boosts and supports every system in our body, adding to overall health and wellness.
- Being in nature boosts our mental and emotional health. It decreases stress, anxiety and depression. It increases mental awareness, creativity and problem-solving skills.
- When planned well and intentionally, doing these activities as a family boosts togetherness and deepens relationships.
You Can Start Your Kids Young
Packrafting is a family activity that isn’t age-based like organized sports. “In this tech-fueled age, packrafting is a fantastic medium to open your children's eyes to the wonderment of the great outdoors without the need for heaps of technical skill and massive physical exertion,” says Deane.
Deane’s son, Leithan, at age 10 with his own river kit
“A larger packraft will have plenty of room for two adults and a dozing toddler on a float trip. But a single is also stable enough with a pre-schooler on dad’s or mum’s lap in easy whitewater. My kids, in their first river trips even as toddlers, were quick to nod off on-board in the arms of mum or tucked into the hatch of a sea kayak.”
Deane suggests “slowly introducing smaller and more independent boats as their confidence grows and they feel more comfortable with a full-sized river kit."
Keep It Fun and Safe
“I highly recommend letting your kids experience the joy of river travel without the need for focusing on technical skills initially,” says Deane. “Start in packrafts on lakes or even the swimming pool. Let them feel the resilience of inflatable boats and how stable they are. Let them experience the tranquility of floating or drifting with the flow before the learning really begins.”
While there may be trips that end up disastrous (Deane’s been there, too), that doesn’t mean you have to quit. “One trip in particular was in early spring on a higher altitude run. It started off great until it started to snow. All three—at 8,6 and 2—were crying at the same time. That was probably the lowest we got family boating. Now they all love the river, having had Mum and Dad drag them on summer river holidays ever since.”
Kids love the independence of paddling their own boat
He offers these wise tips for keeping everyone engaged and happy:
- SAFETY—“Don’t run Class 3 with any children not having experienced Class 2. Keep smaller children between adults’ legs in any rapid. Of course, wear correctly-fitting life jackets and helmets on whitewater.”
- WARMTH & GEAR—“Take lots of layers of thermals and windproof clothing. A steamer wetsuit is the best warmth for a kid of any age and cheaply picked up on used forums. In the peak of summer, protection from sunburn is essential, and keeping cool. Wide brimmed hats and sturdy footwear for the river bank environment are great gear options.”
- ENERGY LEVELS—“A hungry kid is also a grumpy kid, it’s not rocket science. Take heaps of food and snacks and keep offering them. This is not the time to be concerned about sugary treats (unless for dietary reasons). Sugar will bring your princess or prince from the depths of despair back to enjoying themselves in a matter of minutes. Thank Gawd for jelly snakes!”
- PLAN THE SHUTTLE—“Kids aren’t going to be eager to go boating again if they had to sit on the side of the road for an hour, cold, getting bitten by mozzies/sand-flies/midges and waiting for the shuttle. Shelter them from the elements, provide some entertainment and get them in dry clothes.”
Add More Challenge as Your Kids Mature
When his daughter, Zoe, was 13, Deane brought her along on an extended river trip that included two days of rugged hiking. It was “the culmination for Zoe of running rivers in packrafts since she was nine,” he said.
“Like any longer trip, plenty of prep was required and Zoe willingly assisted with that, another important part of outdoor education. There was one big Class 3-4 rapid to portage, but also boat portages to the huts from the water. I did 80% of these for her and leashed our boats together on the lakes so we wouldn’t get separated.”
“On the whole, Zoe did exceptionally well. For me, the stand-out proud dad moments were the big physical effort of the coastal hike, negotiation through the drowned tree mazes on both rivers, assisting with lighting the fire, helping with meal preparation and transitioning from hiker to boater and back. A level of maturity in my oldest that I hadn’t seen before.”
Deane concludes: “This is the result of mother nature's education, enough so my kids now understand the value of rivers, waterways, forests and mountains. I hope this knowledge will serve them into the future and sculpt good people. Packrafting and river running in general is one of the most rewarding family activities.”
“Give it a try, a family that plays together stays together.”
Deane Parker—filmmaker, dad and avid packrafter/bikerafter
To learn more about Deane and his work, visit his website: DeaneParker.nz
All photos and video courtesy of Deane Parker. Deane’s quotes were first published on his blog, and have been used with permission.
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