Bending Branches Regional Ambassador Steve Hrynewycz is a huge believer and action-taker in getting kids in kayaks, whether for recreation or fishing.
Branches Ambassador Steve Hrynewycz kayaks with his young grandson
Steve has been fishing most of his life, starting on his family’s local river. He tried it for the first time in a kayak back in 2014 and hasn’t looked back. One of his joys, though, is helping others discover kayaking, too—especially kids.
We recently sat down to chat with Steve about his activities and suggestions for introducing kayaking to the next generation.
Here’s our conversation:
BENDING BRANCHES: Why is it important to get kids on the water?
STEVE: Kids-and-water is like kids and sandboxes—they just fit together. We’re blessed with several rivers around here and I grew up as a river rat, along with my brother and sister. My wife and I have four daughters and I had them fishing on the water and learning how to swim from early on.
Now we’re grandparents and we had our grandson kayaking with us by age 3. He already wanted to pick up a paddle and help. He’s nine now and paddles his own kayak with us.
Kids are like sponges—they soak this up. It’s great to get them started early, find organizations you can plug into and expand their horizons. For kids who already fish, a kayak opens their world from sticking to the bank to unlimited access on the water.
BB: What have you learned about kids and kayaking?
STEVE: There are three things I know with kids. First, kids are like sponges—teach them early. Second, kids are resilient. Here’s a story that opened my eyes to that:
I took a couple of Fluid Fun’s kayaks [a local paddlesports retailer Steve has a strong relationship with] to a friend on his lake because they wanted to try a couple to buy. He had his 6-year-old grandson paddling this “half a kayak” you could buy at Walmart, like 4-foot nothing. I had one of my biggest fishing kayaks along—a Jackson Big Rig which is 36 inches wide and 13.5 feet long. And this kid wanted to try it.
I looked at his granddad because there was a 20-mph wind that day. I said, “He may not be able to turn that around, you’ll have to.” The kid went out and sure enough, the wind blew him about 50 yards. Well, that kid turned around and paddled it back by himself. Kids are a lot more resilient than I gave credit for.
Happy to be on the water!
So don’t be overly protective when you take them out. Let them struggle a little bit and they’ll soon learn how to maneuver that thing. It was not a problem for him. That really shocked me.
The last thing is: kids are fun, especially grandkids! Now that my grandson is almost 10 we’re going to get him into a sit-in kayak. It’s a little more efficient with the foot braces and he can put all his effort into paddling.
BB How have you been able to reach kids locally?
STEVE: It probably started back when I talked to a local mayor, a good friend of mine. I had invited him to go fishing and he told me about something a local probation officer learned through an unofficial survey he had done: Of all the kids who were incarcerated none of them fished. Wow.
Whether kids who fish are too busy to get into trouble or spend all their money on fishing, we don’t know. But it was quite a shock to me. I started to think of all the different youth organizations around to try to start some kind of kayak or kayak fishing club.
4H was an easy one for me because it’s such a big event in our county. 4H is nationwide with 6.5 million members of kids age 5 and up—and we have 4,000 kids in our county here in Indiana.
We’ve gotten our local 4H leadership to do a Green Day where Fluid Fun brought kayaks and paddles. And we got kids to sit in kayaks. We’ve also done demo days on local waterways.
A local demo day with area kids
A good friend of mine had started a 4H fishing club back in 1998 so we started there with some of these demo days. He recently told me that from our demos we’ve converted 25% of his club into kayakers—they’ve gone out and bought their own kayaks.
So 4H is a great place to plug in if you want to start something locally. Another one is a good tackle and bait store—get them on board for a Kids Day. One in our area, Tackle Shack does one every year and he’s been kind enough to invite me to come. Evidently, I have some entertainment value! I talk to the kids about fishing and kayaking, along with a fellow kayaker who’s more into tournaments.
You just start knocking on a few doors and you usually get someone who’s really interested in doing something like that for kids. Start somewhere small and just watch where it blooms.
BB: Do kids need to know how to fish before they try to fish from a kayak?
STEVE: They can learn to do both at the same time, from my experience. What I would do is stay on calm water, not flowing water. It just complicates things if a kid gets a line snagged in current—things can go south quickly. So in still water, it’s far easier. Any local pond or lake you can fish out of will work and they’ll learn real quickly from the kayak.
Steve with his grandson, already an experienced kayaker
BB: What’s most important about the gear?
STEVE: I like to start kids with sit-on kayaks. They’re easy to get on and off, easy to paddle. The one we have for our grandkids is an ocean kayak. Some adults prefer a sit-on kayak, too, because a cockpit makes them feel claustrophobic.
We use a tether line for young kids so there’s 12-15 feet of line that’s attached to you. They can zig and zag but can’t get too far away. Start them wearing a life vest early and it’s just part of kayaking for them.
We have eight kayaks so we can take others out with us [Steve’s wife Barb is an avid kayaker, too]. As far as recreational paddling, a 12 or 12.5-foot is a good all-around length. If you stick to that range it can work on both lakes and rivers. Comfort is important—especially a comfortable seat.
It’s important for me to get any new kayaker started with a good kayak and a good paddle. You don’t want to take a big kayak and give it a junky engine—you want the right engine, which is the paddle.
I’m not afraid to start at the top, to show people a paddle like the Navigator—the benefits of a top-quality paddle. Then I’ll go down the line as far as where they want to join in. Most people who see it that way get into at least a mid-range paddle. I tell people to get the best paddle they can afford.
Steve’s grandson models the Navigator kayak paddle
BB: What’s your favorite Bending Branches paddle?
STEVE: I’ve gone through the gamut of them and I love that Navigator. It’s like the Air Jordans when those first came out. Everybody said they gave you a spring in your step. When you drop those wood blades in the water they want to come out. They put a spring in my paddling.
BB: What’s your kayak fishing life like these days?
STEVE: We go through stages in life. I like to call it to live, to love and to leave a legacy. I’ve lived and I can show you plenty of big fish. My wife likes to say I have more fish pictures on my phone than my grandkids’ pictures! I love to fish.
But now it’s “leave a legacy.” I’m going to be 70 next year, so I have a whole history of that [catching the fish]. So now, let’s do something different. Let’s do kids.
Steve Hrynewycz, Bending Branches Regional Ambassador
Thanks to Steve for taking time with us and for his generosity to others in the kayaking and kayak fishing world!
Photos courtesy of Steve Hrynewycz.
Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]
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