| Family Vacations, Summer 1996|
The basic sea kayak design, 4,000 years old, still offers a reassuring body-hug. These boats are faster, more stable, and easier to paddle than canoes, and you can cram an awful lot of stuff into the bow and stern. More than one first-time sea kayaker has wondered why anybody would ever again shoulder a load that floats so easily on the water.
Until your child is 14 or so, he or she won't provide much in the way of paddling power, so for younger kids you'll have to make some adjustments. While covering eight miles before lunch at full steam without rest stops may be your objective, such rigidity won't appeal to your kids. They're interested in the here and now and would much rather stop to watch a nearby turtle sun itself than meet an arbitrary deadline.
Give each child a responsibility, even if you have to make one up. It makes them feel important and included, which then makes them more agreeable. (My girlfriend and I provide her nine-year-old with a compass-on-a-necklace and our heading. If we get more than 15 degrees off course, Molly issues corrections.) Likewise, everybody gets a paddle, even if it's plastic and only 18 inches long. In addition to having the obvious things instantly accessible (snacks, drinks, sunscreen, a broad-brimmed hat, insect repellent, extra layers, and raingear), it's a good idea to bring surprises (a string to tow their own personal ocean liner behind the boat, tiny plastic action figures, a toy compass).
The following routes will maximize your time close to shore, which is not only safer but also more interesting (novices should sign on with an outfitted trip). And remember the answer to 90 percent of the paddling questions posed by children between seven and 12: "In about 20 minutes."
Copyright 1996, Outside magazine