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hoto: Ka
thleen B
Rockin’ through
the ages
aGes 0 to 6: introducing young kids to
paddling is best accomplished directly by
parents in very controlled situations. for
infants and toddlers, flatwater and easy
whitewater canoe and rafting trips are
terrific adventures. at age three or four,
kids can start splashing around the pool or
lake in their own kayaks. By five or six, they
can progress to basic moving water with
no sprayskirt. some of the pitfalls of this
age group include short attention spans,
limited stamina and strength, difficulty
staying warm and challenges in finding
gear that fits and they won’t outgrow in six
months. all of this is offset by the sheer
joy young kids experience from kayaking
and canoeing. starting young also makes
paddling second nature—as kids grow with
the sport, the feel and movements become
as natural as walking.
reD hOt: Pablo smokes the Gull river.
aGes 7 to 11: these are the ages when it
Photo MaRilyn SCRiveR starts to be super fun. Multi-day family
canoeing or rafting trips with other
families are social experiences for kids
paBlo veRmeulen
and parents. as motor skills and strength
develop, kids quickly pick up on important
kayaking skills such as rolling, eddy turns,
RIChmond hIll, on bracing and surfing, often outpacing their
At last year’s ACA Open Canoe Slalom Nationals & North American Champion-
parents. Challenges with this age group
ships on southern Ontario’s Gull River, Pablo Vermeulen was the indisputable
include ensuring a steady and positive
crowd favourite. With his mane of jet-black hair, bright orange helmet and custom,
progression—because kids can be fearless,
flame-painted boat, Pablo was an instant eye-catcher. So was his first-place finish
they may try to bite off more than they
in the 18 and under solo slalom full course. At his first solo race, the 12-year-old’s
can chew. Give kids activities that are
winning time thrashed the best times of half the adult men’s competitors.
exciting and challenging but keep them in a
Rivers seem to run in Pablo’s blood. Now 13, he’s been paddling for over a de-
controlled environment.
cade. James Vermeulen began canoeing with his three children—Pablo and two
older sisters, Ingrid and Helcin, now 15 and 18—before they can remember. To-
aGes 12 and up: Kids this age are still pretty
gether, the four started racing in the adult/child category at the Gull River—three-
fearless, their reflexes are fast and their
year-old Pablo paddling in the middle of the canoe with Ingrid, his oldest sister in
strength increases every day. Older kids
the bow and dad in the stern. “It was just for fun and to experience the whitewater,”
and teens often take instruction better
James says. “As they got older, I could race in turn with each of them in the bow.”
from strangers—especially cool kayak
A mishap during one of these races spilled Pablo into the rapids but didn’t faze
instructors—than from parents. they
the youngster. “I’ve always been pretty comfortable in whitewater,” he says. After
enjoy learning in a peer group so get them
his first solo clinic two years ago, Pablo graduated to his own Composite Cre-
paddling with other kids to keep it social
ations Splash solo boat. These days, surfing and “air-time”—riding out big wave
and hold their interest. this is also the
trains—are his favourite parts of paddling.
perfect age to channel their abilities and
Outside of boating, Pablo’s fearless energy lends itself to other adventures. “We
passions, whether these are canoe tripping
travel a lot as a family,” he says, describing cat-skiing at 12,300 feet in the Rockies
at summer camps, whitewater freestyle,
(the ski patroller did a double-take when he noticed the kids’ ages), ducking waves
competitive slalom paddling or downriver
on the Nahanni, roadtripping to the American Southwest and hiking in the Grand
racing. this is when the years on the river
Canyon during a record heat wave. Pablo recalls that hike from five years ago in
change from something that they did with
great detail, “It took all day to hike down because my sisters and I had to wait for
family to something they do for themselves
our parents the whole way!”
and it becomes a lifelong pursuit.
Pablo may be waiting again at this year’s Gull Race, “My time last year was just
SIMoN CoWARD is the Director of Paddlesports at Aquabatics in
15 seconds behind my dad’s.” —V.M. Calgary, Alberta. 
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