I have gotten several inquiries lately about equipping smaller kids for the river and thought it was about time to share a few pieces of advice on the matter. I take full accusations for being a gear junky myself and properly gearing up my kids at a ridiculously young age –my kids could barely walk when they got their first kayaks- but hey, to my own defence, I knew for sure that kayaking was going to be a big hit in our family, so I considered my efforts a good investment. I also take full accusations for being biased in my gear choices, but I can in all honesty say that I wouldn’t have chosen otherwise anyways, and for many obvious reasons.
Kayaks: Jackson Shooting Star is by far a favourite; extremely user friendly, stable and easy to outfit, and by far the boat I have recommended the most for future rippers. For my kids, this is their number one confidence builder; the one that takes them safely down small wave trains, handles ferrying well, and is a perfect tool to learn how to surf. Honestly magical. Yes, the Jackson Fun 1 is smaller, but it is also narrower and much more catchier than the Shooting Star. We save that one for pool sessions in the winter: good for fun and games, and learning how to roll. Alternatively, the Jackson Fun 1 ½, with a little more width, is a little more stable than its little brother.
Another really cool toy for kids is the Galasport Dino, a proper slalom kayak in fibreglass for kids. My kids love the speed and the easy glide; super fun to learn them proper strokes, eddy hopping and general boat control. Playing with gates gives them something real to aim for and a real challenge of precision, timing and angles of approach.
Although not everyone agrees on how well outfitted these boats should be, a tight fit has for sure been a winner for us. While my 5 years old feels safer with a little looser outfitting, my 7 years old appreciates the extra control he gains over his boat when his feet reach the foam block at the front and his hips are well locked in. Worth spending time on for sure. Despite his small size for his age, he rolls his kayaks effortlessly on flat water. And since we often lend kayaks to other small friends, hip pads stick in with velcros and are therefore quickly removable if needed.
Paddle: small blades are crucial; small grip and light weigh are also key. Our best pick is the Bee S Multi paddle from Galasport. Since you can customize your choice, we’ve opted for 160cm and 5-10 degree angle as a first paddle and have nothing but good things to say about that choice. An absolute must for small paddlers. We’ve also added red tape to mark where they should hold.
Life Jacket: when my kids were babies, we used the Stohlquist Infant & child vest and the Salus Bijoux vest a bunch. While Salus has a handy carry strap to lift baby up, Stohlquist had a much better fit. Generally spoken, floatation, good fit and head support should be key here. Now that our kids have grown a little, they use NRS Crew Youth lifejackets. Same as for adults, snug fit and freedom of movement should be prioritised here. I am also a minimalistic for kids; no pockets needed yet.
Helmet: we took a while to find adequate helmets for our kids. I’ve seen several kids using bike helmets on the water, but I never liked the idea of putting a heavy bucket that’ll most likely catch too much water for the small and weak kid’s neck when in whitewater. If I’d find a bike helmet that’d qualified better, I’d probably have appreciated this cheaper option, but I got bored of looking and gave up on the idea. WRSI do make a kid’s helmet, but for the same reasons as mentioned above, and its price, it was also turned down.
But as it turns out, Galasport’s Toni Slalom Elite helmet in size S/M with a little extra padding is by far the best piece of equipment we’ve invested in for our kids. Extremely light weigh, nothing dangerously catchy, easy to outfit, and bonus; it even comes in several colours!
Sprayskirt: Sandiline’s slalom sprayskirt for kids and by far. Offers a good seal, is just easy enough for a kid to put on, and has an extra strap in the center for even easier removal. Comes in small enough tunnel size for small kids too.
Notice also the foam piece glued at the front of the cockpit rim. This trick has been passed on by a good friend and owner of Galasport, and has been a real game changer for us ever since. We’ve been able use proper neoprene sprayskirts that seal up well and allow to move on in whitewater, yet allow for an easy release if ever the kid needs to exit the boat –or suddenly forgets how to pull the plug! Such a relief; for both kids and mom!
Water wear: good old neoprene, short and/or long sleeves depending on water temperature where you live. Ideally with neoprene boots and/or water shoes too. Although I hate neoprene myself, I love it for my kids; fits snug, adds floatation, protects their legs when swimming, and of course keeps them warm. Simply said: a cold kid is an unhappy kid that does not want to kayak. Choose your brand here; no need to be very fancy or expensive, but snug and comfy fit is key.