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The Kayaking Popularity Explosion

While out on a local lake two days ago, I happened to notice no less than a dozen kayaks. Ten years ago, perhaps, there would have been two. I've been around boats most of my (long) life. I started thinking about just "when" kayaks started to be seen everywhere, and why? (I don't think I saw more than two or three kayaks on midwestern waters during the last half of the previous century. Was I not looking?)


  • You've got to be where they are when
    they are.

    That will vary from season to season and for different weather conditions.

    I don't have an answer to your question.

    I paddle my solo canoes a bit more often than my kayaks.
  • I'd say 10 years ago
    I can't tell if the "explosion" is still going on, but I bet I saw almost two dozen kayaks on car roofs today, and that was in about 40 minutes of driving. I would estimate that kayaks have been nearly as popular as right now for close to ten years. Rec kayaks are cheap to buy and easy to use, and they are everywhere.
  • Not so here as a blanket rule.
    Maine Island Trail monitors noted far more overnight kayak activity twenty years ago than now. Today the trend is toward quick day trips that are led by outfitters.

    The cycle on the Maine ocean does not necessarily reflect cycles elsewhere.

    So on inland lakes yes rec kayaks are in profusion. Twenty years ago there were none. When registration starts up along with collection of excise tax you can bet most of those rec kayaks will disappear.

    So there is no one answer. In the Adrrondacks you will hear of an explosion of pack canoes. Not kayaks.
  • its all about plastic, not performance
    What is happening with "rec" kayaks also happened with whitewater boats in the 80s. Durable plastic boats became more readily available and became affordable. You're seeing that on a large scale with all sorts of retailers selling "rec" kayaks. Kayaking has gone mainstream. School is out, the weather is warm, so right now you see a lot of "casual" paddlers. Typically, in my neck of the woods, Southern WV, you mostly see whitewater kayaks but now if you drive on route 19 you notice lots of rec kayaks, usually in the back of pick up trucks. They have replaced and surpassed the popularity of the aluminum John Boat sold by Sears.
    What's fascinating to me is how different parts of the country reflect different boats and styles of paddling. Whitewater play kayaks and rafts are the norm where I live. Touring boats, not so much. I've never seen a wave ski, paddle boarding is considered an oddity, and we have our own version of a "guide boat", its called a dory. I've never seen anybody pole in wv or even paddle a canoe made of Kevlar. I have a much harder time finding folks who will paddle a class I or II stream than a class III, IV.

    What I like about this website is its diversity. We all embrace "paddling". Is there a right way to do it? Sure there is, its my way of course!
  • compared to...
    "The Kayaking Popularity Explosion"

    Should have seen the early 1970's and the "The Bicycling Popularity Explosion". Suddenly everyone was doing it -- and one thought "What are you all doing getting involved in MY hobby?" :^D :^D :^D
  • popular culture and recreational cycles
    I worked in the wilderness recreation business in the 70's and had friends that were outfitters well into the 90's. Also been a member of a wilderness activities club for over 40 years, so I've watched with interest the cycles of sport popularity. In the 70's it was backpacking, Nordic skiing (on mostly wooden skis with bamboo poles!) and mountaineering oriented rock climbing and alpine ice climbing.

    By the 80's backpacking had waned and the hot sports were windsurfing, extreme rockclimbing (redpointing 5.10 and up routes while dressed in flashy lycra)and mountain biking. Orienteering had a brief run in popularity and standard Nordic ski touring lost ground to waxless plastic skis and "skating".

    In the 90's the fad for alpine mountaineering began to grow (with the proliferation of young tech millionaires and empty nest Boomers willing to pay guide services to hustle them up notable peaks worldwide). There was a surge in specialized WW kayaks and WW rafting took off. Single track extreme mountain biking also grew madly during that decade and outdoor high tech gear became the style rage on high school and college campuses. With the rise of SUV's as a "be cool" must-have, they were increasingly accessorized with skis, canoes, WW kayaks, off road bicyles and surfboards.

    In the ought's (first decade after 2000) it seemed to me that the popularity of the "Survivor" and Bear Grylls sorts of shows, blended with the paranoiac atmosphere prompted by 9/11 and the rise of apocalyptic religious and political mindsets, led to a resurgence in interest in backpacking (though more as a practice for having to "live off the land" due to circumstances rather than for enjoyment of the outdoors.) In fairness, increasing environmental and "green" awareness also led to more people taking camping and hiking vacations. I also suspect that the popularity of TV shows like the X Games broadcasts and the various reality overland races prompted more interest in kayaking during that decade.

    Now that we are in the 2K teens (not sure what else to call the decade that started in 2010) SUP's seem to be blossoming and I am noticing a resurgence in canoeing as well as an explosion in rec kayaking and even kayak touring. Hard to tell what is coming up next. I suspect one trend we will see is more new and improved lightweight rigid, inflatable and folding kayaks and canoes.

    Odd sidebar: a single friend of mine who has been an obsessive dater through the personal ads for about 10 years has commented that 8 out of 10 personal ads he reads list "kayaking" as a hobby. But when he asks women he dates about their paddling experience, most confess they have "rented a few times" or "have not kayaked yet but think I would like to."
  • In MN
    -- Last Updated: Jun-26-13 10:40 AM EST --

    In the twin cities MN, I see a lot of of plastic kayaks, SUP's and low level (plastic/alum) canoes. SUP's have really exploded in popularity up here (for some reason)

    somewhat common are nice canoes (fiberglass, kevlar, carbon)

    Less common are sea kayaks, and surf skis. It kinda depends on where you are though. In the city there are more SUPs and rec kayaks. I assume this is related to space constraints and availability (lots of places rent boats like this). In the burbs by my house there are more sea kayaks, skis and nice canoes, but everyone has a 2-4 car garage to use as a boathouse (and a couple extra bucks to burn on toys)

  • Your thoughts would live longer on
    Paddlers Place Discussion Forum.

    Plus, what's to think about? I have eight canoes and four kayaks.

    But I can only take up one boat's spot on the lake.
  • One observation not enough, & gas prices
    You saw a lot of kayaks on that one day. It could be nothing more than a school or other group. If it were lots of onesie-twosies separate paddlers on many days, that might show a local trend. But not just a bunch of them on one day in one place.

    Based on seeing the daily inundation of youth groups from ONE (greedy) outfitter at one of my old practice places, somebody could get a wildly inaccurate view of kayaking popularity there. A lot of people going out once or twice a year does not equal a lower number of people who go out many times each. I *know* that despite those crowds there, kayaking was not popular in that area (except for WW kayaking). Not ten years ago, not last year, or anywhere in between.

    There WAS, however, one odd little blip of popularity. It occurred around 2008 when gas prices first hit $4/gallon. That summer, lots of fishermen and some boaters told me they were interested in buying a kayak, to avoid the gas costs. It was a short-lived blip, similar to but smaller in magnitude than scooter popularity or driving at slower speeds--both of which were also motivated by desire to reduce gas consumption. When gas prices came down, however slightly, both trends vanished. There must be an awful lot of barely-used scooters sitting around.
  • Kayaks are fading out ...
    SUP is the explosive growth market.

    Will eventually come to where you are .
  • Options
    Availability of cheap rec boats
    The availability of cheap rec boats started an enormous surge in paddle sport popularity. Dicks Sporting Goods, West Marine, Ocean State Job Lot etc. Who would ever think that these places would be selling $350. recreational kayaks. Many of these people advance to much more expensive boats and also learn good skills too. I think this price availability has turned kayaking into a very common commodity.

    People refer to the word "kayaking" now with these beginner boats in the assumption as this is what "kayaking" is.
  • Popularity
    I just came back from Traverse City, MI a meca for Midwest/Michigan outdoor sports. On the roads and in the parking lots two out of every three cars had a rack with some sort of recreation item, in order it was kayak, SUP and then bike. In seven days across northern Michigan I saw only two boats that would not be considered recreational and those two were hanging under a dock on Mackinac Island. I was thining "all of this awesome shoreline and water and these people are just bopping around the bays in these plastic tubs?"

    I was severely disapointed in the lack of higher end kayaks rolling along the highways. Lots of factors to consider is that maybe the locals have their gear stored at home and the cars we saw were vacationers brining their plastic pelican kayaks north? While we did see a lot of rec boats, on the other hand there was a lot of money rolling around on car tops in SUP's. There aren't many poly SUP's on the lower end of the price scale, so you're easily paying $1500+ for a decent SUP. In the retail market, every sporting goods store had 10+ rec boats strapped to the outside of their buildings while we saw no less than five surf shops what carried high end SUP's and the trendy board gear that goes with the sport.

    Just a few observations,
  • We see some SUP's for day paddling
    but canoes still reign. We have wilderness tripping opportunities nearby that are more canoe than kayak oriented..

    Meaning portages are involved. The funny thing is this is the heartland of SUP. Its called poling. And it can be done in a standard canoe. Some polers have started to use SUP paddles for the open lakes.. That's a trend you might not see everywhere.
  • kayaks everywhere
    They are cheap and light. That appeals to newbies.
  • no. They are simply cheap
    Light and strong always is more expensive.
  • Great thread!
    This is one of the most interesting threads I've ever seen on PNet, especially Willowleaf's summary by decade of the outdoor fads.

    There's been an explosion of plastic rec kayaks where I live in central NC (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) with a couple of big lakes to use them on. But there are also lots and lots of people here with high-end sea kayaks including home-built wooden kit boats and strippers. The aea kayakers get to the coast when they can, and to the lake when they can't. Lots of sharing of skills here with novices.

    But, oh, how I wish I could spend a month in Maine every summer!
    Ginger in NC
  • Yes
    -- Last Updated: Jun-28-13 3:31 PM EST --

    The lady who cuts my hair knows I kayak. Yesterday she asked me if I had any advice on kayaking near Beaufort and Shackleford Banks. Her immediate and extended family have gotten into the fishing kayak thing but apparently they like to tour around in them as much as fish out of them.

  • Options
    Splashing yes, Paddling no
    -- Last Updated: Jun-28-13 9:28 AM EST --

    In Michigan I see many ""floatin' tubs"" but few that
    have any knowledge of paddling, stroke mechanics, etc.
    Just because someone buys a kayak for $200 doesn't
    automatically mean they know a drip about kayaking.

    People seem to want cheap splash fun, and have little
    interest in the fact that kayaks "transport" people
    to and from a destination (often with cargo) .
    A simple 5 mile or 10 mile afternoon paddle
    is an ordeal many rec paddlers have trouble with.

    From what I've seen, they want to float,
    more than they want to actually paddle.
    A $200 kayak is one teeny tiny step up
    from a brand new tractor tire inner tube.




  • More like a "Plague"

  • geezer paddlers may be one factor
    -- Last Updated: Jun-28-13 12:17 PM EST --

    Another notable phenomenon relating to the popularity of both canoes and kayaks is the remarkable number of folks over 55 who are avid paddlers. This was underscored about a year or so ago right on this forum when somebody took a survey of regular posters' ages (though I'm sure it was skewed by the fact that us old farts may be more voluble than our younger cohorts.)

    I first noticed this trend when I moved back to Western PA 10 years ago after living in the Great Lakes for 8 years (during which absence I had gotten into kayak touring). As I re-established contact with my old outdoor play buddies from the outing club I had belonged to since 1972, I was surprised at first to find that so many of them, who had previously had widely diverse passions (rock climbing, windsurfing, spelunking, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater paddling, ice climbing, etc.), seemed to have switched to kayak touring as their primary or only sport.

    Then I ran into my old friend Bruce, who had been the super jock-of-all-trades in everything from dirt bike racing to extreme rock climbing. After first being shocked to hear that both he and his wife (another super athlete and top notch climber) pretty much only did dragon boating and kayak touring any more, I had a sudden epiphany and began to laugh. "Bruce" I said " you know what this is -- sea kayaking is the last adventure sport we decrepit geezers can still do that looks way cool but doesn't beat us up too much." He thought a moment, then laughed and agreed completely.

    It would not surprise me that a component in the surge of higher end performance sea kayaks and canoes comes from us empty nest Boomers who now have the money and spare time to pursue paddle sports with gusto.

    So, are the touring kayak and the high end canoe becoming the "Hover-round" carts of the waterways?

  • Why? Price and the double blade.
    With the exception of a few states that border Canada, such as Minnesota, northern New York and Maine, there is no doubt that kayaks strongly outsell canoes. That has been going on, increasingly, for 30 years.

    Anyone who was in a paddling store 30 years ago would have seen an inventory of hulls about 15:1 of canoes to kayaks. Go in the same store today and it will be 20:1 in favor of kayaks.

    SOTs rule in many of the warm waters of the AmSouth, and rec kayaks are everywhere. Touring kayaks are being displaced almost as much as canoes by recs and SOTs.

    To me, the reasons are simple: the price of cheap plastic kayaks and the mind numbing simplicity of the double blade.

    A newbie who uses a double blade can go reasonably straight with five minutes of practice. That same newbie will go in frustrating circles with a single blade, and likely has no interest in six months or more of instruction and practice to become competent in the single blade art.

    I see more and more SUPs in the stores than five years ago, but frankly I never see them on the lakes and rivers I paddle on. Maybe more of them are on the ocean. (I never saw many windsurfing boards during that phase either.)
  • Options
    Is the technique that simple - uh no
    -- Last Updated: Jun-28-13 7:49 PM EST --

    """the mind numbing simplicity of the double blade""
    - Then why do so many screw it up and never learn it properly?

  • Kerchunk, kerchunk, kerchunk
    Going straight with a double blade is so simple that a five year old or an 85 year old can do it in five minutes.

    Weak old ladies in Pungos pass by my impotent single stick all over America these days, with disdain and a contemptuous boat wake. Of course they can't edge their boat or do 35 Inuit rolls, but who cares about those irrelevancies in the great plastic REC-SOT revolution.

    A plague on the plague, I say. Impotently.
  • Lots of factors...
    Having read everything above, I agree with most of it, but there are other reasons as well. In the Ozarks where I live, kayaks have nearly replaced canoes as the craft of choice for people wanting to buy their own, and the liveries are steadily renting more and more kayaks and fewer and fewer canoes. Part of it is the "fad" factor. Kayaks have been the fad for a decade or more now. Part of it, a big part, is that kayaks are solo craft, while rental canoes are always tandem craft. People have found that they really like to be in a boat by themselves in a group of other people in boats by themselves. Part of it is the ease at which you can paddle one downstream with the double blade, without any kind of esoteric techniques. Part of it is that solo rec kayaks are less difficult for the river dorks to keep upright on Ozark streams.

    At the same time, anglers suddenly "discovered" kayaks, and kayaks became extremely popular with anglers. The reasons for this is that most anglers' only experience in canoes was in tandem canoes, and the solo kayak was so much better for the independent angler than a tandem canoe that required a partner and always seemed "tippy". I still argue on fishing boards all the time with people who say, "I've paddled canoes before, but I wouldn't have anything but a kayak." When I ask them which canoes they have paddled, it's almost always a tandem canoe. Well, duh...of course you'll find a kayak to be a superior solo fishing craft when all you've paddled are tandem canoes!

    Sometimes you can trace the suddenly increased popularity of something to one particular thing. Especially a popular movie. Whitewater canoeing got a significant boost in popularity from the movie "Deliverance". Fly fishing exploded after "A River Runs Through It" came out. I wonder if there was something like that which boosted the popularity of kayaks.
  • Explosion is over
    Around here (RI) I'd say it peaked five years ago, and is on the downslide now. Five years ago we would get 50 people in rec boats to sign up for a flatwater training class, and do it 2 or 3 times in the summer. This year not a single person signed up for the class. Still plenty of boats out on the water, but it's not growing like it was.
  • Canoeing is more difficult to
    learn the basics about. Then the learning curve flattens and you can make progress quite quickly.

    The shape of the curve is less steep for beginning kayakers but it takes a lot of water time and work to learn to double blade really well.
  • Isn't that true of every hobby?
    -- Last Updated: Jun-30-13 9:33 PM EST --

    Can you name a single activity that's done for recreation for which it is not true that a few people learn to do it very well, but the majority only dabble? Paddling is like that. What's fortunate for the dabblers in every hobby is that their low level of exposure to overly sensitive experts means that they seldom hear this vile drivel directed at them (granted, it wasn't as vile this time as it has been in many of your previous posts. I'm just going with your overall average).

  • Most don't care about efficiency.
    Most aren't paddling in situations where it matters that much.
  • when and where you go
    -- Last Updated: Jun-30-13 3:28 PM EST --

    makes a huge difference. I paddled the upper New in wv yesterday, Saturday at 11:00 am. The peak time to be out. Commercial outfitters were putting on "fleets" of duckies and a few rafts as well. "Private" boaters in open canoes, kayaks, sots, duckies, and even a couple of rec kayaks on an overnight trip. I doubt many folks on this message board can say that duckies are the boat they most frequently encounter? So the "popular" boat changes with the environment and the user's experience level. Do that same trip during the week, and the boats are more sophisticated- ww play boats almost exclusively. Do it in Jan. and I'm pretty much guaranteed that the most popular boat is whatever I and my buds choose to paddle that day since we rarely encounter anyone else that time of year. The harsher the environment, the more specific and sophisticated the boat design.

    In my environment SUPs are pretty much limited to park and play. While they may excel at surfing it takes a ton of skill to paddle them successfully down whitewater and requires a high level of fitness. In other words, be prepared to swim a lot.
    Belly yaks and river boards have a limited appeal as well since their fitness demands are high even though they are designed for a ww environment.

    A new trend is emerging where I live. People are using cheap (made with vinyl bladders) small catarafts, or minis, designed for float fishing on class II and III whitewater. That's becoming popular here on the upper new and greenbrier rivers in wv. Probably a local niche thing even though the boats weren't originally designed or marketed for whitewater. I look for the manufacturers to figure this out and make more durable versions designed specifically for whitewater that aren't cost prohibitive.

  • Yes to a degree
    -- Last Updated: Jun-30-13 5:49 PM EST --

    I match that profile to a degree, and I am really enjoying the freedom sea kayaking and light weight canoeing and camping allow me as I age. Kids are on their own, reduction in bills, more free time, etc. I still backpack (light weight), but can see the writing on the wall. So hooray paddling!

    Still in the Charleston area of SC you see many more younger ages out and paddling than O.F. So I don't see the boomer geezer factor as driving the markets as much as just contributing to them.

  • Market seems to be vibrant here
    I come across lots of first time paddlers, all in rec boats, often with paddles much too long and sans PFD's.

    Always nice to come across paddlers with nice gear. Ran into Chris_H yesterday in his Tracer 165 (nice looking boat) using a CF greenland paddle. Later I ran into Robin ("webmaster" for the Jersey Paddler)paddling a solo plus. The other 95% paddling yesterday were in rec boats.
  • cracked me up
    "Odd sidebar: a single friend of mine who has been an obsessive dater through the personal ads for about 10 years has commented that 8 out of 10 personal ads he reads list "kayaking" as a hobby. But when he asks women he dates about their paddling experience, most confess they have "rented a few times" or "have not kayaked yet but think I would like to.""

    Cracks me up the things women list that they like to do when trying to get a date! Oh how their likes can quickly become their dislikes. I got lucky and found a lady who later told me I had her at Kayak!
  • Seriously, DUUJ, this thread belonged
    on the Paddlers Place Discussion Forum.

    Not that it's very interesting.

    An SUP fan on SOTP (UK) asked, what is there that one can do with a canoe that one *can't* do with a stand up paddleboard?

    Immediately the answer came back, you can load a canoe with enough gear and food for weeks in the wilderness. You can load it with your family, your dog, and your picnic stuff. For that matter, you can pole it upstream, and you can keep standing and use a SUP paddle.

    As for recreational kayaks, they are good for quick learning and easy use, but for anything serious, they kind of suck. I have an old ww kayak that is more comfortable, carries as much, is faster on lakes, and runs serious whitewater, and it puts rec kayaks totally in the shade. But, it does require more skill. Don't wanta hafta mess with that skill.

    I've been on rivers and lakes since 1960, and I've never had any difficulty whatsoever understanding market trends and fads in personal paddlecraft.
  • They're More Accessible
    Being located in the prime locations of Walmart, Sam's Club, Costco, and West Marine. Some in the $299 - $499 price range and selling side by side $699 SUPs. And that includes paddle too! At Sam's, you can pick up a nifty Body Glove PFD for under $40 down the aisle.
  • Options
    Landlubbers with Zero Help
    -- Last Updated: Jul-02-13 8:03 PM EST --

    Unfortunately people get Zero help, advice, etc. when
    buying from those big box locations and end up paddling right
    after a rainstorm because - "water levels are up, dude".
    They start at zero and most progress little because
    "they don't know, exactly what they don't know"
    But don't dare call them dumb, because it was cheap on sale.

    Buying from a kayak shop can make a world of difference
    that lasts a lifetime and enhances the buyers experience.

    I'm just waiting for the Sams Club scuba gear
    and Costco underwater welding kit to go on sale.

  • TV
    Some years ago there were several commercials that included images of kayaks. Mostly old men with prostate problems. I suppose they added to the popularity explosion.

    (gosh... do ya think???)
  • Cheap Boats
    I'll admit I am part of the new wave. We bought cheap SOT's for our kids for a beach vacation at the local box store. My wife is small enough and went for a ride on one. When she came back she said she wanted one too.

    Fortunately we found this place and received advice on further boat purchases. We are lifers now with a stack of boats and gear in the garage and the cars now in the driveway.
  • Options
    more popular
    The place I've bought my yaks from now has a group called WOW....Women On the Water. They have classes and are helping the women build their skills. The classes seem to fill up quickly. I did a float with them and it consisted of a group of women with different skill levels. Hopefully I'm not insulting anyone by saying this but I'm pretty sure most of the women were in my age range (53). I also feel like maybe its more popular because its hard not to share how relaxing it is. I've took several on their first kayak float...thats all it takes is one time and they're hooked. How can you not enjoy getting out in nature, on water, away from everything? Most people seem to be unsettled and floating is so relaxing. After your initial expense of boat, paddle, pfd, all you have to spend is gas to get to your float point.
  • the boardNazi makes his guest appearance
  • kayaks
    They are also forgiving for people that don't take the time to learn to paddle.
  • Price
    A Dunham's flyer in or paper had a number of kayaks listed at very reasonable prices. Unfortunately, my wife saw this flyer and promptly informed me I could have bought a kayak there for less than the tax was on my recently purchased Swift Osprey carbon fusion solo canoe!!!!
  • kayaking/prostate problems

    Lighten up!

    I started kayaking (while continuing canoeing) 25 years before I developed prostate problems.

  • You made a good choice with the Osprey.
    Don't let your wife paddle it, or you might have to buy another.
  • Don't call yourself a Nazi. You're only
    trying to improve the Forum experience, in your own way.
  • Osprey Choice
    I did something worse than letting my wife try the Carbon fusion Osprey. I let my grandchildren try it. Now they want a black solo canoe just like Papa's.
    I only have one wife but I have 2 grandchildren!!!
  • DUUJ has not said one word since
    starting this mess. But it has been a great chance for many to increase their grasp on the obvious.

    Smell a troll odor?
  • So it goes.
  • Still no DUUJ.
  • Options
    Holiday weekend
    Some people do go away for a week or two
    around the holiday, so it's no biggie..........
    GREAT discussion in my opinion.

    Wish the ACA or Outdoor Industry Association
    actually HAD real stats on current usage in the USA.
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