Kids/smaller people have been an integral part of paddling since slalom came to the USA. But it took some time before the manufacturers of plastic boats went to bat for the smaller paddler. The driving force behind smaller plastic boats initially came from women and the Perception Dancer XS.

A ground breaking boat in the 80′s, the Dancer XS was the boat that started the momentum for smaller peoples plastic boats. The statistics on it read 8’3″ length, 23″ width and a volume of 50 gallons. Once smaller people got into the XS, the industry recognized that there was the need for a boat that was proportionally built for that small size.

Next out of the gates was the Dagger Blast. Even on the other side of the pond, the reviews were two-thumbs-up:

The Dagger Blast is a superb kayak for children and smaller paddlers up to about 9 stone. There are lots of kayaks suitable for children to paddle but only a few that are designed for those children who are keen to learn the sport. The Dagger Blast is possibly the best Junior Kayak available. It is designed to enable the paddler to progress their skill base from flat water paddling through to white water and surf. It has true kayak proportions and is both quick and directionally stable.

During the 90′s the momentum did not stop with the Blast. Coming in at a length of 6’8 and a width of 24″, Perception’s JIB picked up on the trend; a sporty low volume boat that was a notch up in high performance from the Blast.

In 1999, young slalom boater Becca Red became the model child for Dagger’s next kid’s boat: the DYNAMO. The Dynamo was designed for river running and playboating, bringing in some of the concepts the then-current playboats were introducing, while keeping a more forgiving hull given the age factor. The Dynamo was light weight and more manageable for smaller experienced paddlers.

In 2001 Wave Sport joined the bandwagon recognizing the kid factor with the EVO. Wave Sport’s by-line on the EVO read:

We’ve all done our best to keep the kids from kicking our butts by putting them in oversized boats with questionable performance, but to avoid an ugly uprising by the kayaking youth of America, we realized it was time to buck the trend. The answer is the EVO, the first full-on, high performance kid’s boat: super-loose hull, sleek shape, low volume. It’s going to set kids free all across the globe and make squirt boating fun again for smaller adults. No moves are out of the reach of kids 90 pounds and over, in flat or whitewater. For kids 65-110 pounds, the EVO makes an incredible river-running playboat. For the adults out there who think volume is a dirty word and part of the worldwide conspiracy, the EVO delivers incredible comfort in a small boat. We’re making “Squirt until you hurt” a phrase of the past. Go ahead – do endless clean cartwheels in flatwater, shred your favorite wave, mystery move your favorite local squirt-boat spot and wear your favorite booties. Here’s a squirt boat that never needs fiberglass repair and a hull that could win the Worlds, with all-day comfort. Only from Wave Sport.

In 2004, the demand for high performance play boats was at its peak. And onto the scene came Jackson Kayaks and their FUN series. The smallest Fun in the series was the Fun1 at 5’3″ length, 20″ width and optimum river running weight of 60lbs. Even the 60 pounder now had a boat that could be cartwheeled!

One of the obvious struggles with manufacturing a small person’s boat is that the market is so limited. There is always an initial wave of popularity, but because of the ability to recycle boats between siblings/neighbors/cousins/camps, kid’s boats tend to have a long life span. But the manufacturers continue their support of the small persons market as seen by the 2007 release of Wave Sport’s newest small person’s boat: the FUSE; a river-running playboat tested by and designed specifically for smaller paddlers.

Wave Sport considers the FUSE 35 a blend of excellent river running characteristics with high performance play features, effectively “fusing” the best features found in a river-running boat with the best features found in a playboat. The thought behind Robert Peerson’s latest design is that a paddler can begin their whitewater paddling career at an early age and as they grow and their skills develop, the FUSE 35 will follow their growth, transforming from a river runner to a high performance playboat.

There is such a rich history of kayaking here in the States, but the sport is still young enough to make multi-generational paddling a common occurrence on the river. Many of the original US boaters are still enjoying the river but now they are on the river with their children and/or grandchildren.

Just last week I chanced upon two great multi-generational scenes on the Nantahala River. Pulling in at Ferebee with a group of campers canoeing the Nantahala for the first time, I noticed Doug Woodward preparing to put-in. Stopping to chat for a moment, he introduced me to his son Rivers who was out with Dad for a paddle down the Nantahala. Not a day later at Surfing Rapid on the Nantahala, Horace Holden Sr. was out giving logistical support to Horace Jr. who was paddling with three of his four sons. Chatting with Horace for a moment while his oldest son hand-surfed the wave, the former Olympic paddler lamented that if he did not hurry up and learn to loop, he would not have a “first” over his sons!

Such experiences would not be possible without the support of the manufacturers; who over the past twenty five years have made sure that the smaller among us have as much fun on the river as their elders!