COVID and canoeing, sea kayaking continues decline...

JohnAbercrombie

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Interesting article on paddling data, by Bryan Hansel of Paddling Light:
https://www.paddlinglight.com/articles/sea-kayaking-on-the-decline-and-canoeing-bounces/

I find the 'sea kayaking decline' reports mystifying, in light of the reports of crowded campsites, reservations required in Broken Group, etc. etc. .

In Victoria, SISKA member numbers seem constant or increasing slightly... and many sea kayakers here don't belong to SISKA (or VCKC) from conversations I've had at launch sites.

Good sea kayaks seem in short supply these days - whether that's increased demand or sellers not wanting to interact with buyers in the time of COVID isn't clear to me.
 

tiagosantos

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Port Coquitlam BC
Interesting data..

A couple days ago, I bumped into a very large BC Kayaking group on Facebook, with thousands of members. I was excited to see such a large group! I had a quick glance through and I didn't see a single sea kayak amidst the dozens of posts related to inflatable boats.

I haven't been paddling much lately, but I do browse the buy/sell websites often. As you said John, I haven't seen that many good boats listed for sale. Makes me think the pandemic allowed folks to have enough spare time to consider keeping their kayaks, but at the same time made access to new (or "new to them") kayaks pretty hard for interested buyers.

The article makes some good points about sea kayaking not being the most accessible family activity - how do you even transport 3 or 4 boats, let alone store them, afford to buy them, etc.
 

alexsidles

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Seattle WA
Google data suggests a decline in interest in sea kayaking.

Below is Google search trends, which has data going back to 2004:
(The periodic spikes are due to increased interest each summer)

Screen Shot 2021-07-16 at 11.04.27 AM.png


Below is Google Books NGram Viewer, which has data going back to the 1800s:

Screen Shot 2021-07-16 at 11.05.17 AM.png


Google's data is consistent with what I learned in the course of my review of Pacific Northwest sea kayaking guidebooks in 2018. New sea kayaking books appeared regularly between the late 90s and early 2000s. Between 2004 and 2008, publishing peaked in a flurry of new books, followed by a steady decline that continues to this day.

You may wonder what, if anything, has replaced our once-beloved sea kayaking in the hearts of the people? Well, friends, I'm sorry to tell you: it's the evil stand-up paddleboards! Screeeeech!

Screen Shot 2021-07-16 at 11.41.28 AM.png

Alex
 

AM

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Thanks for that link, John. Paddling Magazine noted a few years back that canoeing was showing an uptick in interest as Millennials started having kids and were looking for a family activity, so I guess this article just confirms that trend. There is no question that canoeing is a better sport for families — and probably for most paddlers generally. Sea kayaking is an expensive niche.

It is also interesting that the author talks about the failure of the sea kayaking market to reach out to families, preferring instead to showcase surfing, tide races, etc. That is in line with the last major change in the Paddle Canada curriculum, which saw camping removed from the Level 2 course so that instructors could focus more on rough water skills. The reason I heard was that several of the big instruction companies felt they could make more money selling a rough water course than a camping course.

I was skeptical of that reasoning and remain so. I view kayak surfing and related activities as a niche within a niche, whereas a camping/tripping approach can bring in more people of all ages and abilities. It is certainly my experience that I have no shortage of students who want to go on kayak/canoe camping trips, but the one time I offered a WW course on the Mamquam I had trouble filling it.

Cheers,
Andrew
 

kayakwriter

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It is also interesting that the author talks about the failure of the sea kayaking market to reach out to families, preferring instead to showcase surfing, tide races, etc. That is in line with the last major change in the Paddle Canada curriculum, which saw camping removed from the Level 2 course so that instructors could focus more on rough water skills. The reason I heard was that several of the big instruction companies felt they could make more money selling a rough water course than a camping course.
I was skeptical of that reasoning and remain so. I view kayak surfing and related activities as a niche within a niche, whereas a camping/tripping approach can bring in more people of all ages and abilities. It is certainly my experience that I have no shortage of students who want to go on kayak/canoe camping trips, but the one time I offered a WW course on the Mamquam I had trouble filling it. Cheers, Andrew
As a PC instructor, I too was bummed when they dropped the camping requirement, and not just because I don't teach surf/rough water (I used to do a lot of surf kayaking when younger). One of the things I like about sea kayaking is that it is (or should be) accessible to a wide range of people because you can do it at so many different levels in so many different ways. And touring/camping in sheltered waters should be super accessible - I've taken friends and partners and even my then child-age niece and nephew on kayak camping trips with no problem. I really do think PC is missing the boat here, so to speak.
 
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SWriverstone

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Eugene, OR
Don't even get me going on this topic, LOL.

I've been an avid (some would say "hardcore") outdoor recreation junkie for decades. And I've spent a huge part of my life mastering and pursuing "fringe" outdoor sports (like hang gliding, hardboot snowboarding, whitewater slalom racing, motorcycle sport-touring, etc.) I've also been an expert canoeist for decades.

I don't say any of this to blow my own horn—but simply to point out that I've had decades of close observation of not only outdoor sports generally, but who is doing them and how the media portrays them. And my broad-brush conclusions (there are always exceptions!) after all these years of observation are as follows:

1. People are lazy. They are ALWAYS looking for shortcuts. ALWAYS. Generally speaking, people don't want to take the time to actually PRACTICE something to master it. They just want to be able to do it, period. So people naturally gravitate to sports with an extremely low-barrier to entry. In watersports, we're talking about whitewater rafting—which requires almost no skill—and paddleboarding, which also requires almost no skill to just do it at the local pond or calm-water lake. (If you question whether whitewater rafting requires any skill, I have personally watched hundreds (possibly thousands) of complete idiots lacking any experience or skill bounce their way down class IV rivers with nary a scratch. Occasionally they go overboard but are generally hauled back in soon enough with no harm done. Kayaking and canoeing in whitewater require VASTLY greater skill.)

2. People are weak. They want sports that don't require good physical conditioning. (Just look at obesity rates in the US, maybe Canada too, I don't know?) In particular, any sport that requires the ability to lift a boat weighing 45-75lbs onto a vehicle is beyond the reach of most people—as are sports that require good conditioning to even do well. This is a big reason (along with no-skill-required) why people love paddleboarding.—because paddleboards are generally light enough that even weak people can pick them up (or inflate them).

3. The media only publishes what sells, period. And Xtreme sports (it's gotta have the "X" in there!) sell far more than serene scenes of someone just paddling along for hours. Magazine publishers know they will sell far more magazines when the cover depicts some Xtreme kayaker plummeting off a 50-foot waterfall or Xtreme sea kayakers paddling through monster surf surrounded by deadly reefs and rocks...or surfing Deception Pass at peak tidal currents. This has the net effect of convincing the majority of people that "those sports are insane, no way I'm doing that." People do what they can SEE themselves doing...and how they see themselves is in published media (including YouTube). When that media doesn't show average people having average adventures, they look elsewhere.

4. Finally, people are CHEAP. With rising inequality and more people struggling to make ends meet, nobody has the wherewithal to drop $3,000 dollars on a kayak. Hell, I'm likely never to be able to drop $3K on a kayak, which is ultimately why I paddle $1600 plastic boats. (Yes, I know the second-hand market is there, but my point still stands.) To go back to the paddleboard example, you can buy a perfectly good inflatable paddleboard now for...what? $500-600? Not to mention the "Clorox bottle" kayaks being cranked out by the thousand and sold in big box stores for $250. And forget paying for instruction—most people, after spending even $600 on a paddleboard, aren't going to then spend another $100 for single-bladed paddling lessons (which they all DESPERATELY need, as evidenced by all the paddleboarders I see who don't even use the T-grip with their top hand...DOH!)

It's all very saddening to me, and I don't think it's likely to change. Maybe there is some trickle-down effect: if a million people are farting around spastically on their paddleboards, more people will bubble up who are actually talented and gain skills—and eventually say "This paddleboard sucks! I need a REAL craft I can actually GO SOMEWHERE in!" and graduate to distance kayaking.

I think cost is a huge factor too. I mean, I'd love to start a sea kayaking program in my community here in Oregon—but I couldn't feasibly do it without buying a stable of boats—and that can be pretty costly. (As compared with, say, starting up a hiking program.)

More worrisome to me though is the general dumbing-down of the wilderness experience. Because one thing is absolutely certain: as you make it easier for people to get deep into wild places (with guided tours, powered travel, etc.) those wild places suffer. After decades of observation, I'm 100% certain of that.

Scott
 

AM

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More worrisome to me though is the general dumbing-down of the wilderness experience. Because one thing is absolutely certain: as you make it easier for people to get deep into wild places (with guided tours, powered travel, etc.) those wild places suffer. After decades of observation, I'm 100% certain of that.
Amen to that. COVID has seen an increase in use of easier backcountry areas, and a concomitant rise in trash in those same areas. I now expect to see mounds of toilet paper wherever I go, along with the usual plastic wrappers etc.
 

RFT

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Sea Kayaking and the LNT camping that goes along with it are such an incredible connection to our environment. In my native tongue, Sea Kayaking means 'Hauling gear up and down barnacle/oyster/sharp nasty rocks in huge tides'. Sea Kayaking requires a lot of effort as most on here know. We had 5meter tides last weekend, we saw 4 paddlers over 4 days in primo conditions during a circumnav of Read Island. The kayak population that we see the most is mid-older age women, especially on our big trips in the Baja. Sea kayaking is hard work, most folks want the biggest bang with the least amount of effort. Sea kayaking may be dwindling but the dedicated will carry on. I am a lifelong working SkiBumb and I learned a long time ago that some folks are passionate about the activity and most folks are passionate about looking good and being cool.
 

cougarmeat

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Bend OR USA
I’ll take a slight exception to the cost aspect, because … I go into a bike shop and these people are selling $3,000 - $7,000+ bikes and they are not even electric. But picking out a good kayak means you need to know something. And dealers have learned they can sell less expensive “lake” boats and SUP’s so they carry those, the staff is trained about those, and the actual Sea Kayak, if they have one at all, is in some corner of the store.

I just returned from Ozette Lake (report later). As we were launching, four people pulled out - all older folk (60+). They had one tandem Delta and two home-made “skin” on frame boats. We didn’t see anyone on the lake for four days. When we returned and pulled out, a young couple with their small daughter inflated their SUP and the guy paddled while the wife and daughter sat on the board. The daughter wore a pfd.

I was busy loading gear into the jeep and didn’t notice if they were packing just for lunch or an overnight at one of the closer campsites along the lake perimeter.

I’ve spent a lot of early years camping and you do learn to do with less, but the trips are much shorter (expect for thru-hike endeavors). With sea kayaking it seems I have to pay more attention. Even simple stuff - like of I open a hatch cover I don’t want the cover to fall in the sand. I don’t recall having to be that much aware of where I put things down during my forest treks. I didn’t have to consider a tide coming in or going out as I filled my backpack, etc. So kayak camping takes the land skills to a new level.
 

Mowog73

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SW Ontario
I find the comment about kayaking in decline odd too, I've never seen so many kayaks on vehicle this spring in a long time, both recreational and sea kayaks.

Many friends have asked about our kayaks and where to get one. When they inquire at local shops they find out that they are sold out of this year's supply. We sold my wife's ~20 yr old Necky Looksha in 8 hours through kijiji for a bit more than we bought it for 15 years ago (it was in very good condition).

A few weeks back we visited an outdoor store at the base of the Bruce Peninsula that had just received a shipment of Delta kayaks, all but one was presold. They had one child PDF on the rack and only 3 or 4 paddles on the wall. I was hoping to get a Seals cockpit cover for my wife's new boat but they had no 1.7 size in stock and were not expecting any until fall.

Kayaking may not be as popular as it once was, but the last 2 years have got to have been good for the industry.
 

sofstu

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Jun 14, 2021
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Kootenays BC
I have seen hundreds of vehicles with what look like expensive sea kayaks on the roof without even scratch on.
Whereas my kayaks ann got scraped up within hours of finishing them.
So I think several people have bought them up and are too afraid to use them.
 

YYJ Paddler

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As a PC instructor, I too was bummed when they dropped the camping requirement, and not just because I don't teach surf/rough water (I used to do a lot of surf kayaking when younger). One of the things I like about sea kayaking is that it is (or should be) accessible to a wide range of people because you can do it at so many different levels in so many different ways. And touring/camping in sheltered waters should be super accessible - I've taken friends and partners and even my then child-age niece and nephew on kayak camping trips with no problem. I really do think PC is missing the boat here, so to speak.
I don't know about SKILS, but Bluedog still includes camping skills in Lvl 2 and the Lvl 2 instructor course. I know another Lvl 2 IT who also includes camping as part of the program.
 
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