June 13, 2022 9 min read

GILI inflatable paddle boards

Inflatable stand up paddle boarding has taken the world of water sports by storm in recent years, and educational leaders have started to take notice. The sense of community, connection to nature, and responsible decision making associated with the activity makes it a fun and engaging tool for youth leaders to teach their students these principles and many others.

One such leader is Elliot Coates, Director of Summer and Auxiliary Programs at the Pennington School in New Jersey and a very well equipped paddler who runs camp programs teaching kids aged seven to sixteen how to paddle board. We connected with Elliot after he ordered twenty GILI 10'6 Air paddle boards for his 2021 summer camp program, and he was kind enough to give us an interview about his experience incorporating iSUP into his program so we could bring you this ultimate guide to summer camp paddle boarding.

If you're wondering about the benefits of having your kids take up a camp with paddle boarding and what to look for when browsing around for a program, you'll learn everything you need to know right here.

Topics Covered in This Article

The Benefits of Paddle Boarding at Summer Camp

Kids at Pennigton Summer Camp with GILI inflatable paddle boards

When children reach the age of seven, they begin to understand the consequences of their actions, the concepts of responsibility and risk management, and begin to develop the need to freely express themselves; this also happens to be the same age when children are able to paddleboard with supervision.

Thanks to Elliot's insight, we now understand that the benefits are far more than having fun, learning a new skill, building physical fitness, and caring for mental health, as highlighted below.

Connecting with the community

When paddle boarding at camp, kids are able to see their local community from an entirely new perspective and begin to appreciate the adventure waiting for them in their own backyard. A sense of community is built between the campers; they watch out for each other, point out interesting sights to the group, and go through the process of learning new skills in a group.

"(Paddle boarding) is an individual sport. But when you really get into it, it actually becomes such a community sport and community activity; you really need the power of everybody to really have a good time, paddle safely, and learn from each other. So it's quite a neat way to show kids this power of community as well as giving them the experience for that personal individual growth."

- Elliot

Disconnect from devices and connect with other campers

One of the most difficult challenges of being a parent in the digital age is to get young adults to unplug their attention from a TV, computer, or smartphone. A smartphone is an endless distraction wherever they go - except when they're on the water.

Aside from the fear of dropping their phone overboard, paddle boarding requires 100% focus and attention, eliminating the ability to access the phone in the first place. Naturally, their connection goes from a screen to having fun with their peers, building the communication skills to participate in society and confidence needed to interact with other campers.

"For the longer programs, what I do notice is a change amongst students and how they engage with each other and not their device. A lot of the kids really enjoy sharing that shared experience on the bus ride back, I think there's a lot of power. Going back to what we were talking earlier with, you know, having that shared experience and being able to talk to each other about how it was what you learned from it. Or even just having a conversation because they had the whole day they broke down barriers that had their icebreakers. Now, they're comfortable talking to peers that they might not have known before."

Provides a Sense of Independence and Freedom

The ages of kids eligible to attend a SUP camp coincide with the ages at which they begin to develop the need for independence and freedom - and there's nothing more free than the idea of hanging out with other campers doing awesome things all summer long.

Paddle boarding adds another layer of freedom into the mix; the freedom to paddle in a way that works best for them and the freedom to explore nature on their own in a group setting. As they get more comfortable at camp, they will build the confidence needed to seek out responsible levels of freedom and independence in other aspects of life.

Builds Responsible Decision Making

Few things require more responsibility than learning a new water activity, an environment that all children should both be comfortable with and respectful of. While learning proper paddle etiquette at camp, they are also learning how to develop a sense of responsibility while in, on, or around water; these responsible choices then echo throughout other aspects of their life.

Develops Risk Management Skills

Paddle boarding is an excellent way to build not only new skills on a SUP, but also critical risk management skills by placing campers in an environment where the consequences of their actions will directly affect both themselves and the camp group. Learning to weigh risks while on a SUP can lead to them weighing life risks off of the board as well.

"...it's just them on the board controlling where they go and how they maneuver. It gives them that opportunity to go explore and question where they want to go and make those risk management decisions."

- Elliot

Connecting with Nature

From a young age, all children love being in nature and interacting with wildlife, but as they grow older, this wonder and appreciation fades due to modern society encouraging a connection with their phone instead of with nature. Getting out on a SUP allows for young adults to go back to those roots of enjoying the adventure and beauty of the planet, getting a real world marine education, and remembering the beauty of a serene, natural setting of a beach, as Elliot explains below.

"You get the kids that aren't so exposed to [nature] and they're like, wide eyes didn't realize like, "Whoa, look at that. It's so cool." What really gets me most is just the amount of kids that get like this when they're just in a pure wilderness setting... It’s really more about being in nature, they don’t necessarily have to see animals.

What To Look For When Choosing a Summer Camp with Paddle Boarding

Paddle board instructor with his students on paddle board

At this point, I hope you're sold on the idea that enrolling your little camper into an iSUP adventure camp is excellent for their health and character development and are ready to sign them up for a SUP camp - but not all are the same.

General things to check for include a ages that can participate, start date, a full refund or non refundable cancellation policy, what happens if the daily weather is unfavorable to continue paddling, if they'll be paddling on an enclosed environment like a lake or open like a beach, any related activities at the camp such as marine education, if the camp provides lunch or if you have to pack a lunch, and other aspects outlined below.

Since Elliot does such an incredible job with his camp and campers, we'll use his Paddleboard Adventures and SUP and Surf camps at The Pennington School as an example of what to look for when choosing one for your camper.

Experienced instructors

First and foremost, be sure to check that the person leading the camp and taking your camper out on the water is an experienced professional in this water activity, water safety, how to teach balance skills, and child development as well as being a well equipped paddler. A quick LinkedIn search of the instructor should give you all of this info.

Different programs for different ages and experience levels

Learning new skills is intimidating for anyone, especially impressionable teens around other campers; so when looking for a SUP camp, check to see if there are options with a daily agenda based on age and experience levels. This will help your camper feel more comfortable if they're new and stay engaged if they're already familiar.

For example, Elliot's camp programs have a different daily agenda based on age groups; younger children starting at ages seven to nine play paddle board water games in a pool. From ages ten to fourteen, they're taught how to use the SUP in a safe and enclosed environment such as a sheltered lake. For ages twelve to sixteen, the program takes them to the ocean, beach, surfing, cruising the coast, and other more challenging activities.

Water Safety Precautions

Safety is paramount when learning a new water activity at camp. In most cases, you can get an idea of the program's water safety precautions through the program description. To learn more, you can either email or call the camp program director directly and be sure to ask if they provide life jackets and their cancellation policy.

Where They'll Be Paddling

Within the program description, you will be able to see the settings that they'll be paddling in, such as beach challenges, lake, pool, inlet, river, shore, coast, etc. Exact locations can be determined by contacting the camp program director.

Which paddle boards the program uses

Of course our opinion is biased, but it is important to ask the quality and age of the boards. Certain camps may be cheaper than others, but it could be due to the fact that their paddle boards are old and outdated; if this is the case, opt for the slightly more expensive camp.

GILI: "Why did you choose GILI paddle boards?"

Elliot: "So I was doing a lot of research between different companies and I chose GILI for a couple reasons. When I got down in the nitty gritty, for me, I'm looking for a good strong board or one that can survive the wear and tear? I have 20 boards that are used between, you know, 100 days throughout the summer and get all kinds of different ways. I want something that's durable. I need durable, easy to learn on, and GILI hit those marks, but they're also very responsive in the customer service.

The boards held up really well. You know, the reason I wanted an inflatable was because of storage and transportation. You don't have to think about how and where we can store it without a premium. Where are we storing these boards, how are we transporting them. And they hit the marks on that.

I also love that they give back to conservation organizations, that's huge for us. And that's a big part of their ethos is conservation, reducing waste.

Wrapping it Up

Student summer camp with GILI paddle boards on a river

Overall, paddle boarding is an excellent water activity to build critical life skills and a well-rounded character in kids and young adults. Chances are that once they try paddle boarding, they'll continue paddling well into their lives. More and more SUP summer camp programs are popping up around the country, so it shouldn't be too difficult to find one near you with a quick Google search.

If you live in northern or central Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, or southern New York areas, Elliot's Summers @ Pennington programs are by far your best option. After interviewing him for an hour, I can say without hesitation that he is a professional instructor who truly loves what he does and cares about the campers.

We'd like to thank Elliot for his time, insight, and choosing GILI Sports. In closing, I'd like to share with you his final thoughts from our interview.

"Our thing is focusing on doing our best. We should be focused on achieving more, doing more, and leaving wherever we go in a better state. And that's something we put in all of our programs, instilling in the kids that your individual actions are for you, but it's also for your community. That's one of the reasons I started at [The Pennington] school; their sense of community, ownership, and responsibility to the community

For me, it's really about having a representative brand to use for my summer programs in the school. The things I want to utilize, I want them to be high quality as well as shared ethos and goals.

As a school, as all businesses, your goal is to generate revenue. But revenue is secondary to making sure that our mission and our vision can sustain what we do. Our guiding principles are very similar to GILI's, we want to ensure our environment is there for the next 100 years.

Thank you for reading, and thank you Elliot!

GILI Sports

Paddle Boarding Summer Camps FAQs

🏆 What age is appropriate for paddle boarding?

Generally, kids can begin stand up paddle boarding when they are at least five years old so long as they have the correct sized SUP. Younger children must always be supervised at all times.


👍 Is paddle boarding harder than kayaking?

Yes and no; if you have a kayak seat for your paddle board, the difficulty is very similar to that of kayaking. However, stand up paddle boarding is more difficult than kayaking as it requires more balance, strength and stamina to paddle standing up than sitting down. With that said, the SUP learning curve isn't steep at all.


🏝️ What to bring to paddle boarding summer camp?

The program description should tell you all of the equipment you need to bring, but you should always pack a backpack with a swimsuit, dry change of clothes, sunscreen, rash guard, towel, hat, plenty of water, lunch, water shoes, and a life vest.

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

Chief Paddler - Jay has been surfing and paddling for over 5 years. When he's not dreaming up new stuff at GILI, he's writing articles about paddling, out paddling, or often traveling.


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