They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but what about a free kayak lesson? I've wondered for years about that free kayaking class for kids in the Marina, which we shout out on our list of 50 Free Things for Kids To Do in LA this Summer. It seems so unlikely—like there must be some catch. Does someone actually offer kids a chance to spend a couple of hours kayaking the Marina for free on alternate Sundays all summer long? Has this program really existed for 15 years, teaching hundreds of kids to kayak, without most Angelenos even noticing it's there?
It only take a few paddles for most kids to get their sea legs. Photo courtesy of Kayaks 4 Kidz
The answer is pretty much yes (see below for small print). Kayaks 4 Kidz is the non-profit, passion driven project of one couple and their team of boat-loving volunteers. For 15 years they have been sharing their passion for paddling with kids ages 8-18 on the gentle waters of Mother's Beach in Marina del Rey. The protected cove offers a safe environment for first time paddlers, but even kids who have kayaked before get a treat—namely spending a summery Sunday morning kayaking freely in the salty lagoon.
Mr. Water Dog gives a written test from the Coast Guard. Photo courtesy of Kayaks 4 Kidz
The three to four hour experience includes a light-hearted lesson on dry land beforehand, in which parents participate. Water safety, boating safety, and a bit of environmental stewardship are all covered, followed by a short written test. Mr. Water Dog hams it up a bit while encouraging kids to take water safety seriously. Meanwhile, the rest of the team get the kayaks ready for a mass launch.
The flotilla prepares! Photo by the author
Kayakers get a quick paddling lesson on the sand, after which adult volunteers help them to get their boats onto the water, with as much (or as little) help as they need. The littlest students are taken in two-person boats; bigger kids are encouraged to try it alone.
The gentle cove makes it wasy for grown-ups to help kids go it alone. Photo by the author
The time actually spent on the water is roughly an hour, depending in part on the stamina of the kids. On our morning, I saw a range from little ones who were done in 15 minutes to teens happily clocking laps of the cove until the last minute. It is important for the kids to have a little energy left for the end, though, since everyone is expected to help with clean-up, bringing boats, paddles, and life jackets to be hosed off, and helping to load it all into the truck.
Teen gets to try a faster kayak after showing he could handle an easier one. Photo by the author
The class is the same every week, culminating in a certificate ceremony, but there is an incentive to return: students who return three times in a season are invited to participate in an end-of-season Advanced Paddle family trip in late September, kayaking seven miles up the coast on the open water to Venice Beach and back.
Everyone gets a diploma in a ceremony at the end. Photo by the author
So, how is all of this free? In truth, Kayaks 4 Kids does ask a small donation (currently $17) to help cover insurance costs. However, no one is ever turned away for inability to donate; these folks really do just want to get your kids out on the water, so if the donation is a hardship, an email solves the question. Because they also want to limit no-shows, they ask for the tax-deductible donation by PayPal a few days beforehand. Reservations are required, so they can match the number of boats to kids, but walk-ups have a pretty good chance of making it into a kayak as well. If there is any way that Kayaks 4 Kidz can get your kids on the water, they want to do it.
Kayaks 4 Kidz meets at Mother's Beach in Marina del Rey on alternate Sundays throughout the summer. Parents are expected to stay onsite for the entire class. The closest parking is in the short term public lot on Palawan Way, where parking costs about $1.50 per hour. The Kayaks 4 Kidz class location is directly across Palawan Way from this lot.
Top photo by the author.