Just about six years ago we started taking our babies on the Ottawa River with us. We’d paddle to play spots, kids on the laps. We’d go down simple wave trains and do easy ferries, had them swim in current, if not otherwise playing alongside of the river. We’d spend hours on the river, took turn at paddling and playing. We did what we always used to do; simply brought the kids along as they were introduced to this world.
Undoubtedly, reactions from other paddlers varied a lot then: many looked at us suspiciously, several questioned, “do you really believe it is safe?” some simply smiled, but all and all very few approved. It seems to me that for a long time river sports have been kept for the mature ones only. “Too dangerous” was the common explanation for why people left their kids out of it.
The truth is, even though I knew it felt right to bring my kids along, I struggled to find a good answer to those asking; an answer that sounded smarter than “because it’s so much fun!” and less cheesy than “because I want to share my passion with them.” But now I know.
The answer is simple: I can either fear for my kids to get hurt by natural elements and keep them safely away from the river, or show them how to embrace and respect nature’s power and guide them in the approach. I chose the latter.
Whitewater is indeed a lot more than huge holes and pinning rocks and nasty whirlpools and recirculating eddies –even thought these fill paddlers’ fairytales around fire pits. It’s the unique perspective of natural beauties that you only get to see from the water. It’s the thrill you get in front of every new challenging rapid. It’s the pride of finally reaching long lengthen goals. It’s the accelerated friendship you experience when meeting new people and the everlasting relationships with those who you’d paddle with. It’s enjoying the places and the moments for whatever they contain.
Unfortunately, many look at the river as a danger zone, therefore kept for the ‘responsible adults only’; I look at it as endless opportunities. Opportunities to learn, grow, challenge oneself; become stronger, more endurant; meet quietude, find balance; be social, active; enjoy and respect nature. What better way do I have to explain this to my kids than experiencing at this first hand?
Nevertheless I realized that bringing kids on the river (or powder skiing, or surfing, or…) also comes with a great load of responsibility; it is my job to teach them the skills they need to have fun, and yes, stay safe. But danger is never the focus; opportunities for playing are. Swim up the eddy just to ride the wave train over and over again; flip upside down in a kayak to then climb on it and pretend it’s a surfboard; move rocks around to create a little stream for a mini foam-boat; play tow-boat; paddle the eddies on a discovery mission –every excuse is a good one.
Six years have passed since we started to bring our kids on the river; six years in which I have dedicated a lot of my time into inspiring and helping other parents to making their river time a family affair. Nothing makes me feel happier to see that the river where I learned to paddle is now filled with young lads. Families gather on beaches and rocks islands below or above rapids, parents take turn at paddling while kids enjoy the surrounding environment. Kids boats get swapped and everyone gets a go. Seldom are kids unhappy when surrounded by water; water simply has that power on them.
Thanks to all the paddling-parents who ‘dare’ giving their children the opportunity to experience one of nature’s most delightful environments.