ERA has enjoyed paddling with Tom Popp on several continents–and now several members of his family back here at home. Tom has been a recognized figure in southeastern paddling for “a while.” We were all surprised the day Tom traded in his “star” helmet–a signature helmet since the 70′s, for a new one.

And even more surprised when he traded in his C-1 for a kayak! Guess it was harder to keep up with five family members out on the river when you are on your knees (no C-1 jokes here, promise!). Tom took time out from keeping up with the kids on the river to reflect on his family and paddling:

How many kayaks do you have loaded on your trailer now?

Nine, 4 play kayaks, 4 river running kayaks and 1 Inflatable kayak. Sometimes add open canoes(currently 6 in the garage) or an 8-person raft if we are taking friends. Also have an “old” Old Town wood canoe to be refinished someday, a wood frame Folbot kayak and 5 C-1′s. Looking for the right flatwater touring kayak or sit-on top for the more peaceful days. Starr thinks we should get rid of a few boats.

And that is because how many of the Popp Family are paddling now?
Six. Selena (10), Bryson (11), Haley (14), Colton (17), Starr (IKer), Tom (maybe too old to learn new tricks). Plus my Mom & Dad are retired open canoe paddlers and my sister has just bought her first kayak.


Is there any particular thing that has motivated each of your kids to start kayaking? Everyone was in an open canoe and raft first. I think Colton wanted to kayak to be in his own boat. Freedom!!! The younger ones saw the fun Colton was having and wanted to join in. Independence from parents. Now that they are a little older all their friends think it is “cool” that they kayak. Peer status!!!

What has been your role in all of this?
$$$. Really just providing them the opportunity to see how fun paddling and river life can be. Providing proper gear and instruction when needed. Trying not to criticize too much when they don’t “perform” to my expectations.

Any advice you would give to the parent of an aspiring young paddler?

Get them swimming and comfortable around water at a young age. Our kids were in a canoe early on and rafting the Ocoee at age 3-4. A big raft with an inflatable floor is very safe for young kids even in class 3 water. They don’t get bored because they have room to move around and you are not always telling them to be still. We had them swimming through safe rapids and learning river safety before they ever got into a kayak. At about 7-8 years old they were ready to handle easy whitewater in a kayak. We got the smallest boats we could find so they could learn more easily. Didn’t worry too much about learning to roll until about 10 years old. Most just are not strong or coordinated enough until then. It helps if they can be around other kid paddlers. We had the advantage of siblings paddling together so we didn’t have to seek others out initially. Now they are branching out to paddle with others also. We didn’t always give them a choice. We made paddling a family activity and just said everyone had to go. Sometimes there were protests but usually they all had fun. Now they get a little more choice about when and what we paddle. Adequate gear helps. If they are cold they are not having fun. Also have snacks available on the river. Amazing how attitudes can improve after a cookie or granola bar. I think the parent can do a lot of the initial teaching but at the teenage years outside instruction is way more cool to them and less frustrating for all.

By the way�when did you get into kayaking? And what was your motivation? Well, I’ve got elven blood so the water environment is natural to me. Started family canoeing at 10-11 years old with a local club. Saw a few kayaks on the river and they looked like sports cars to a teenager. You could go through waves without swamping, they were fast and manuverable, and you could roll them!! My first was a blue Old Town touring kayak. 14 feet long. Paddled it down the Ocoee during the first test releases in the 70′s. Then saw a C-1. That looked even cooler. Tried it and stuck with it until now. I think it must be the combination of water, physical activity, outdoor beauty and potential danger that attract me to paddling. Guess I will paddle until I can’t keep up with my kids, then just run shuttle for them.