Sea Kayaking in the UK vs. US????

-- Last Updated: Nov-27-07 7:42 AM EST --

Just out of curiousity, can anyone comment on the popularity of sea kayaking in the UK?

I personally believe that it is a fairly obscure sport here in the US. It seems like you find smatterings of serious paddlers here and there, but for the most part it is not a very popular activity among the general population (I’m talking about real sea kayaking and just paddling dipping rec boat paddlers…no offense to anyone).

I am curious largely because of what I have seen on videos, what I have read, and what I know about the BCU.

For instance in one of the TITS videos Sean Morley talks about having gotten into sea kayaking in high school. Not a common thing in here in the US unfortunately. Furthermore, my understanding of the BCU is that it was formed to provide a means of skill development, coaching, etc, standardized for the various paddling clubs in the UK…thus implying that they are fairly common. And lastly…the UK is the home of MODERN sea kayaking and long expeditions for the most part….Derek Hutchinson, Nigel Dennis, etc.

Again, I’m just curious it is a more common activity than here in the U.S. I personally am disappointed that it is not more popular here. It is a great sport and while there are thousands of enthusiasts here in the US in no way does it compare to other outdoor fitness activities like cycling, mountain biking, running, even marathons, etc. May even be less popular than long distance backpacking.

I also have noticed that here it tends to be a sport dominated by those in the 40-60 age group. Being in my 30s, I find few other serious sea kayakers my age (I guess more young people are into whitewater).

Most of the time that I go sea kayaking I have people come up to me in fascination asking me about my "canoe" like they have no idea what it is.....furthermore my wife calls me a weirdo for being into kayaking and not golf or some other activity.



– Last Updated: Nov-27-07 8:05 AM EST –

Check out the BCU's UK site - - you'll find a listing of clubs in all of the part of Great Britain. That should give you a rough sense of where the paddling groups are and how prevalent.

The one thing that may not jump out is how many "sea kayakers" there are. We have been told by more than one person from the BCU that, with the club system, they get young people going in paddling a variety of venues early on. So it is normal for someone who learned to paddle thru the club system to have side by side proficiencies in sea kayaking as well as WW as well as some open canoe work. That matches up with the paddlers from he UK that I've spoken with.

For the most part, these guys figure that paddling is paddling. It's not uncommon for higher level coaches to show up at sea kayaking symposiums with both a long boat and a WW boat on their roof, with hopes that they'll find a place to use both of them. And I am told that Nigel Foster is one of the most graceful canoeists you'll ever see alongside being a nut for surfing.

The clubs have a stock of boats for their members, so it isn't nearly as difficult to get into different paddling environments as over here.

That said, the clubs obviously are happy to take on adult newbies as evidenced by the guy from Scotland who was posting here and was having trouble getting comfortable in an Explorer.

PS re the wife - As I recall, at one point you were looking for suggestions on apt decorations for your dedicated kayak room. I'd suggest that you don't have major reasons to complain about your wife's attitude - were it me, I'd have grabbed half of it as a rehearsal space.

I can barely contain my gagging…


asking me about my "canoe"
Hmmm… I didn’t realize that in Maryland folks often refer to kayaks as canoes. There have been more than a few threads here wherein paddlers complain about the Brits doing so.

The British Isles are islands and relatively small ones at that. It requires sea crossing to get anywhere else. An English friend once noted that as a reason for the plethora of British explorers, sea farers, etc…

All the paddlers from the UK with whom I’ve spoken think of paddling as paddling. ‘General purpose’ boats are very popular there and it seems the clubs usually have a goodly number of them. (General purpose boats are very similar to really old school ww kayaks like Pirouettes)

It might be worth researching the history of North American kayaking (maybe via the development of Current Designs and Seaward kayaks) for a fuller sense of the development of modern sea kayaking in America.

Boomers seem to have the time, money and inclination for such pursuits as sea kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, etc… There is also a lot of white hair on the river anytime we’re running ww.

Dedicated physical endeavors requiring complex skills development are not particularly popular in these United States. It seems shopping, spectator sports, video/computer games, etc… are the dominant pastimes of choice.

Personally, I am very glad that for the 6 hours I spent with two friends paddling last Saturday we encountered only two other paddlers. I would have been very unhappy if the thousands (millions) of people who were shopping had instead decided to paddle.

ditto. it really must be winter.

Could it have to do with being islands?

What would you do if…

– Last Updated: Nov-27-07 10:02 AM EST –

Had a later thought. A lot of how any activity works out is access. If I had the opportunity to join a paddling club like they have in the UK in the same easy way that I could join the Girl Scouts when I was a kid, I'd have taken club lessons and spent time in every kind of boat they had. I think most would have done the same.

In Israel, they have kayaking clubs that you can join like a regular health club here. For a signup plus monthly fee you can go to the "gym" as much as you want and pull out a club boat with full gear to go paddling after work. Obviously sea kayaking given the water venues available.

In the Americas, if you want to paddle more seriously you pretty much have to get your own stuff. So the cost of sea kayaking compared to other paddling tends to set the path and likely takers.

Kayak and Bicycle dedicated room
More commonly known as the living room.

Furniture is over rated and the cost interferes with the acquistion of more gear and taking trips. The bedroom consists of a futon, ( dresser from a thrift store ) and tv with 3 kayaks in the closet.

Nice wall decorations
The boats and bikes versus a “starving artist” painting from a mall… no contest.

We have paddling clubs in the US

– Last Updated: Nov-27-07 11:51 AM EST –

Chicago has a couple of sea kayaking clubs along with a fairly active WW club. One of the clubs has a club house with easy access to Lake Michigan, a number of decent boats for people to use, and storage facilities for people that do not have to space to store their own kayaks. Other clubs here have weekly paddles, trips, and instruction. There are also a number of decent outfitters that offer classes and various trips from a weekend in Wisconsin to Greece and Alaska.

Granted, the sea kayaking clubs attract more middle aged members, but there are many very skilled paddlers you can paddle with. Sea kayaking has been getting more popular in Chicago, evidenced by the number of kayak racks you see on trucks, SUVs, and the ubiquitous Subaru.

really depends
on where you are in the US—here in Maine sea kayaking is a very popular sport—if you were to count the number of kayaks you see on a nice summer weekend on the tops of cars you would see at least one out of five cars seems to be carrying one. And everyone seems to know the difference between a canoe and a kayak. One downside is that kayaking has become so popular on the coast that some municipalities have closed their boat launching ramps to all but their own residents due primarily to use pressure from us.


– Last Updated: Nov-27-07 12:09 PM EST –

I didn't know that anyone had a paddling club like that set up in this country, at least with long boats. Sounds like the club is a great resource. Most I have heard of offer storage for peoples' own boats, group paddles and arrange for lessons, but for the most part you still have to spring for your own gear to paddle.

One thing though - it sounds like this is a club for adults, yes? So there's not really a youth program equivalent to the stuff in the UK.

What muni’s?

– Last Updated: Nov-27-07 12:07 PM EST –

Anything in the Friendship area been tempted to close their lanch ramps to non-residents, or is it mostly south and north of the mid-coast region?

they are all canoes, especially in the British isles.

We have paddling clubs in the US
North Shore Paddlers Network, ConnYak, etc…

Some things to consider
For every person who believes Derrick Hutchinson is the godfather of modern sea kayaking, there is the much quieter north American version, named John Dowd. I would put his influence as in the same neighborhood as DH’s. Modern sea kayak exploration started with neither of them. There were boat loads of Kleppers plying north American, European and other salubrious waters well before any of the current crop of adventurers (much wealthier in exotic materials to work with) took root in the sport.

Whitewater paddlers took off from the grand alpine tradition and also heavily influenced sea kayaking. Many great sea kayakers learned from their whitewater roots. In the US and Canada, we benefit from access to thousands of rivers and vast inland seas. In England, the streambed is considered private property. (Things are changing as Scotland now has a right to navigate and Wales is also considering such a move.) However, in general in the UK, if you want to play you need access. Clubs formed partly as an offshoot of academics, preparation for international events and for access.

In the US we have a tradition of independence in outdoor pursuits and the club scene is more of a byproduct of adventurers banding together than whatever catalyzed UK or other European nations. European rivalry and competition is at the heart of the club/academic angle of outdoor sports. We have those things if you want them, but the tradition here is to do what you want, including learning from the tea heads if we so choose.

You may find fault in any of the generalizations I’ve made, but that is my take on things.


Canoe is the generic term
Then divided into kayaks or canadian canoes.

No dispute - clubs
I hadn’t replied to some aspects of the original post. But yeah - there is plenty of space at the table when we start talking about contributions to sea kayaking and it doesn’t all resonate with a British accent.

As above, what I meant with the club thing has gotten drawn into something other than what I was talking about in my first reply. The only places that I see a club model in this country that is close to the way they operate in the UK are pony clubs and some major sailing clubs. The pony clubs are entirely about teaching young people to ride and care for their horses and gear, and many sailing clubs offer training and have regatta sections specifically for younger people in beginner’s sailboats who are still learning.

In both of these cases the parents have to cough up the money for most of the gear (and of course the pony), but there tends to be a group of adults involved that are often willing to share resources on an ad hoc basis. It’s not unheard of for a family to even loan out the pony that their own kid outgrew for an extended time to someone else if they feel that the animal will be well cared for.

I also don’t think that adults have such a major need for a club structure to have access to paddling. Eventually they will find their way.

I think what we lose with our individuality is a common and readily available point of access to paddling for many young people. The kinda silly result is large groups of people with white hair who are just starting to learn how to challenge rocks.

See below… NM

I hear what you are saying and can’t
really come up with anything more than that besides quilting bees. ; ) Universities have their water programs, of course, and there are horse clubs and Jeep clubs, motocross and so forth, but the depth of watersports clubs in the US seems to not be too old of a concept. I could be wrong.

To answer Matt’s original question as to how popular the sport is in the UK, it seemed to me based on a 1 week exposure that non paddlers reacted to me with surprise the same as they do here, if that is a measure of obscurity of sport anyway. Like here, whitewater paddlers outnumbered them.