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Stand up paddle boarding with toddlers – yes or no?

River Thames @ Lechlade

Stand up paddle boarding with toddlers. Yes or no? It’s a frequent question we get asked at McConks. Over the summer we have enjoyed many paddle boarding adventures on our iSUPs with our two boys – both on our beautiful local stretch of rural Thames, and further afield – and we have often posted photos and videos on our social media pages.

We always get lots of attention when we’re paddling with the boys on the front of our boards, and, whilst most people love seeing them having a whale of a time, we have noticed some disapproving stares and tuts from people too. Although it’s not always easy to establish why the passive aggressive brigade is critical.

Table of Contents

Toddler stand up paddle boarding – the main criticisms.

There generally seem to be two main criticisms: whether we are being selfish by forcing the boys to go when they would rather be doing something else, and whether it really is safe to have toddlers and young children on paddle boards.

Turning first to the question of selfishness and small person enjoyment, no one who has seen our two-year-old sitting on the front of my board

Paddling at Cotswold Water Park Hire
Paddling at Cotswold Water Park Hire

trailing his feet in the water, waving to cows or other wildlife, and singing could dispute his enjoyment! We believe that kids not only should be playing outdoors whenever possible, but that they also love to be outdoors, whether it be in or on the water, in woods, fields, on beaches or just in the garden. Children love getting wet, muddy, dirty or


covered in leaves, and our two are no exception. Not only do they enjoy it, but we believe that children who grow up playing outdoors are healthier and fitter, both physically and mentally.

Family McConks.

Our boys undoubtedly love playing outdoors, and, to their minds, paddle boarding is just another way to

Fun at the beach
Fun at the beach

play outdoors. We don’t just go stand up paddle boarding. We go paddling to go wild swimming, to knock daddy in the water (ahem, there may have been some encouragement from mummy on that occasion), we go pretend fishing, and to spot wildlife or see the sunset, and we go exploring to find new beaches or a great picnic spot (because we all know that everything is better with a picnic).

The boys love all of this, and the decision to go paddleboarding comes from them as often as from us. Yes, sometimes they say they don’t want to, and then we think of something else to do, or of a way to make it more appealing.

Benefits of SUP.


So, although it is only us getting the benefits of exercise this time, and they are sitting or lying on the front of the boards for a lot of the time, they are getting plenty of fresh air and enjoying the world around them. Plus we are confident that they get plenty of exercise at other times.

It is always worth bearing in mind that whilst you might be getting a workout, they are not, and ensuring you make the trip as enjoyable as possible. Here are just a few of our top tips to make paddleboarding an exciting adventure each time:

  • Bring a bucket to collect treasures, be it creatures, leaves, sand, shells or sticks. A net would enable fishing treasures out of the water. We whiled away a happy few hours in pouring rain combining paddleboarding with another favourite coastal acitivity – crabbing! Only once have we had a decaying fish head plonked on our boards!
  • Sticks – endless opportunities. Sticks can be fishing rods (our two love a bit of pretend fishing, and cooking and eating their catch), fairy wands, swords, the list is endless.
  • Take provisions in a dry bag strapped to the front of the board – drinks and snacks or a full picnic. Everyone loves a picnic, especially small children.
  • Look around – there are always different things to see, whether it’s other people enjoying the water, boats or wildlife. Make sure you point out interesting things, and explain what’s happening if necessary. We’ve watched boats going through locks (best to portage around on SUPs!) and
Helping Uncle Pete open the gates
Helping Uncle Pete open the gates

helped the lock keeper open and shut the gates, counted different types of water craft, discussed tides (again and again) and spotted wildlife, which brings us to the next point:

  • Wildlife spotting – we’ve seen puffins, egrets, herons, kingfishers, otters, swimming grass snakes, jellyfish, salmon, spider crabs, crayfish, oyster beds, samphire forests (or baby trees if you are 4!) and much more.
  • Sing and tell stories about what you see. Having young children tends to make you leave your inhibitions at home, and we can often be found singing loudly and only vaguely in tune as we go!
  • Stop for a rest, or run around on the bank, or wild swim when interest levels flag.
  • Small people onboard.

    Wild swimming
    Wild swimming

    With small people on board, it is probably unfair to go on long, touring paddles, and you always need to be aware of their interest levels. We have frequently turned back when the boys started to lose interest, when really we would have preferred to keep on going.

    The other benefit of taking them paddleboarding when they are so young is that they will grow up enjoying it and will hopefully start paddling

    Assisted paddling
    Assisted paddling

    themselves as soon as they can. At 4 and 2, our boys already love having a go at paddling their boards on their own (with one of us keeping tight hold on the leash), and it will only be a few years before they may be able to go it solo.

    SUP safety.

    The other big issue is safety. We have been asked point blank why we are prepared to put our children at risk to indulge ourselves. Simple answer – we are not, and nor would we! I’m pleased to report that we convinced that particular observer that this was not the case, and she continued on her way knowing that the boys were having fun quality family time.

    Paddle boarding is not dangerous, and, as with many activities, probably safer than the car journey to our chosen launch point. However, there are a few guidelines to follow to ensure that no one is put at risk.

    Personal floatation devices for children and toddlers.

    Personal flotation devices (pfd). These are essential for children, particularly non-independent-swimmers, in all environments. Your children do not need to be strong swimmers to come paddleboarding with you, but you need to know that if they did fall (or jump!) in, they would be able to float. We have treated pfds in a similar way to helmets when our

    12'8 explorer
    12’8 explorer

    two are riding their bikes, so they have never been paddleboard without, and just accept that they are necessary. We have also made sure that they know why they are wearing them.

    Pfd for parents is a hotly contested point, although if in doubt, it’s probably best to wear them. We do not wear them when we go on our local river – we are both strong swimmers, the river does not get rough and we always wear leashes which strap us to our boards – which are essentially large buoyancy aids. However, in other environments we do wear them.

    Consider local environment and weather conditions.

    You need to know what the paddling is going to be like, and whether the weather is going to change. Paddling with the current and wind behind you is very different to paddling against it! Ideally only ever go downwind or upcurrent at the start of the trip so that you do the hard work before you get tired. However, if you are starting out with the wind or current behind you, test conditions going back if you get excited and go too far!

    Adjustable paddles can be a godsend, enabling you to paddle kneeling down if you are struggling to make headway. If you are paddling somewhere new, speak to the locals, or pop into a local surf or paddle shop. In general though, we only go out with our boys in fairly calm conditions, not 6 foot surf or down a gnarly river!

    Key things to pack when paddle boarding with toddlers.

    As with all activities, it is always sensible to have a mobile phone with you (although remember to buy a waterproof case first!), so that you can get help if necessary. Money or a bank card is also useful, in case you need to bail out and get a bus or taxi back (or of course, in case you spot a lovely waterfront pub!).

    A small first aid kit can easily be stuffed in a bag and means that you can deal with any small injuries, real or imagined. And as with all things involving small children, copious snacks and drinks will make the paddle go more swimmingly.

    Summing up.

    Hopefully, we have convinced you that paddleboarding with small children is both safe and enjoyable for everyone. Happy exploring! If you want to find out more about the most family friendly SUP company, and the best family SUP boards, please visit our website to find out more.

    If you have kids that are into stand up paddle boarding then be sure to check out McConks’ Kiddy SUP Shop section –

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