My previous two pieces focused on seconds (Our Unsung Heroes) and paddling with kids. This time I want to explore a logical extension of these themes: family time on the water.

Most paddlers I know would love to share their passion for paddling with their families. It is a noble idea that often have disastrous results.

I believe the biggest mistake most paddlers make is to try put their family in the same kayaks that they paddle themselves, often in similar conditions that they enjoy putting themselves in. It is unlikely that the exact things that drew you into the sport and lifestyle of paddling will have the same pull on them. There is also slim chance that the skills and experiences you acquired over a period will magically transfer to them and make them competent enough to enjoy what you want to share with them.

The first and most important step before you take your family on the water in kayaks is to adjust your expectations. They will most likely struggle more to get it right than you wanted. They might have an amazing time on the water, but they might also be cold, tired, frustrated, anxious. The best you can do is to set the bar as low as possible, to prevent you or them having a miserable day.

The second most important step is to plan to make it fun. If your intention is for them to want to do it again, they need to enjoy it. It doesn’t matter what type of outing you’re planning; whether it is a one hour paddle or a full day paddle or a multiday trip, the focus need to be on the experience and not about gaining skills.

Once your own mindset is calibrated, you can start focusing on the details. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • The duration of your first outing with your family will very much depend on their current attitude towards paddling as well as their general experience in outdoor activities. If they are really hesitant about the thought of paddling, don’t take them on a full day trip down a river. Plan an easy outing with a picnic, with maybe 30 minutes to an hour of easy paddling on flat water thrown in. If they are fit and strong and keen to give it a go, you can definitely do something more challenging, but always make sure to keep the focus on fun.
  • The easiest place to start is always on flatwater. Your local club may be a perfect location, but keep an open mind about it. For some beginners the club will be the obvious place to start, while others may feel intimated by the “experts” paddling around. Look around for dams or river sections that have easy access and facilities for picnics too.
  • Make sure to take enough fluid to keep hydrated and if the outing is longer than an hour, take some snacks along too.
  • Invest in or rent stable kayaks that area easy to handle. I’m a big proponent of using sit-on-tops for safety reasons, as these kayaks tend to be more stable, and if a paddler ends up in the water, they can just get straight back onto the kayak instead of having to swim to the bank with it.
  • For a treat, you can book your family for a half or full day commercial paddling trip. There are many options available in the country, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, different sections of the Vaal and Orange rivers, and also some rivers in Mpumalanga as well as rivers around Cape Town. Trips range from flatwater to proper whitewater rafting.
  • For a much more immersive experience, book a multiday trip on a river. These can range from 2 to 6 days, with nights typically spent on the riverbank in tents. The most popular river in the country for multiday trips is the Orange River, with commercial operations on 6 different sections of the river. Multiday trips are also offered on rivers like the Vaal, Breede, Doring, Tugela, Umkomaas, Umzimkulu and Umzimvubu.
  • As always, keep safety in mind. Don’t go out on the water without a PFD and apply enough sunscreen.

If you approach paddling with your family by keeping these basic points in mind, there is a good chance that they will have a positive experience. Maybe your partner want to take it more serious and do some racing in a K2 with you. Maybe your son got a kick out of some whitewater action and decides to get into some whitewater kayaking. Maybe your daughter wants to try her hand at canoe polo or sprints. Maybe some or all of them just want to do some easy recreational paddling or use a kayak to do some bird watching. Maybe none of this will happen, but they might at least get a taste of what paddling does for you.

Written by Celliers Kruger for the December 2018 issue of The Paddle Mag. This free digital publication can be read online or downloaded to be enjoyed later on your device.