Paddling with Your Kids — What to Know Before You Go

“Paddling is a wholesome sport and a good way to meet people,” says Stan Mrzygod, president of the Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club, which he’s been a member of since 1979. He and his wife taught their three children how to paddle. “They just learned by doing it with me,” he says. By the teenage years, the family was enjoying multi-day canoe-camping trips together.

Children as young as five years old can begin learning how to paddle. Give them small paddles and help them observe and understand “the play of moving a paddle as you’re moving over the water…[and] the interplay of paddle and water and how it pulls one’s hand,” says Mrzygod. “I started my kids in a canoe, but a kayak also works – it comes down to personal choice as far as what the parent is most comfortable with, so he or she can guide the children through the skill set,” he says.

Paddling Gear

“The most important piece of equipment is a PFD [personal flotation device} – type III, Coast-Guard approved for both adults and children,” says Mrzygod. “Wear it anytime the boat is not connected to the shore,” he says. “Most boaters drown within 15 feet of their PFDs.”

Rent gear from a store that specializes in watersports, such as Mountain Gear, Mountain Goat or REI. If you eventually decide to buy your own equipment, Mrzygod recommends mid-level gear from specialty stores. While it requires more experience to use, it’s a “better value, leading to an improved paddling experience,” he says. Mrzygod also recommends using a dry bag to store cell phones, snacks, extra clothing and other belongings.

Paddling on the Spokane River. Photo courtesy of Lynn Mrzygod
Paddling on the Spokane River. Photo courtesy of Lynn Mrzygod


“Keep kids warm and comfortable. Start out with paddling for an hour or less. You don’t want to have kids start whining and parents losing patience. Keep it short and sweet,” he says.

“A good place to start out, close to Spokane, would be Long Lake near the Nine Mile Resort. Around here, the water never really gets warm…stay close to shore. Stay away from moving water – no creeks or rivers. There is a whole new dynamic to moving water.” Mryzgod also recommends Newman Lake and small lakes that only allow non-motorized boats, such as Medical Lake near Cheney or Horseshoe Lake in Pend Oreille County.

Wait to paddle on moving water until children have the necessary skills, which is typically age 12 or older, according to Mryzgod. River paddling requires more complex safety awareness and rescue skills. “There are always hazards with cold moving water, including foot entrapment [from submerged rocks or sticks],” says Mrzygod. “It’s a much different dynamic than a lake.”

Two or more families – or at least two adults – should team up for canoe or kayak outings. “Go with other adults with a second boat. Self-rescue is very difficult,” he says. “You have to have skills to get back into a swamped boat.” And someone, or the entire family, will inevitably “go swimming” while learning to paddle.

When someone goes overboard, remember the “Reach, Row, Throw” water-rescue process. This means the first rescue attempt is to “reach to the person in distress, if you can, using a paddle or stick,” he says. If that isn’t possible, row to the person. Throwing a rope is the third option; however, Mrzygod doesn’t recommend using a throw bag unless parents have taken a rescue class, to reduce the risk of the rescuer being pulled in.

Clinics and Classes

“Since children should be under adult supervision at all times near water, especially if paddling is involved, it is recommended that the responsible adults have knowledge of potential risks and possess the necessary skill sets for their particular choice of paddling equipment,” says Mrzygod.

The Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club offers instructional clinics for adults and youth age 12 and older for canoes, sea kayaks and whitewater kayaks. See the club’s website,, for more information. There are also local organizations, such as FLOW Adventures and Spokane Parks and Recreation, that offer private and group lessons, as well as guided outings.

Mryzgod recommends two local upcoming on-the-water events that serve as an introduction to paddle-sports and water safety for families and children.

Spokatopia Outdoor Adventure Festival on July 11 at Camp Sekani Park. ($5 festival admission; excursion costs vary). More info:

Paddle, Splash & Play on August 15 from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at the Nine Mile Recreation Area/Riverside State Park. (Free but a Discover Pass is required.) All equipment will be provided for families and children. //

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