• We apologize for the somewhat convoluted sign-up process. Due to ever-more sophisticated attacks by chatbots, we had to increase our filtering in order to weed out AI while letting humans through. It's a nuisance, but a necessary one in order to keep the level of discourse on the forums authentic and useful. From the actual humans using WCP, thanks for your understanding!

Whither Sea Kayaking?


Jan 30, 2006
Okay you prognosticators, let's get at it. We have enough collective wisdom on this board to make some educated guesses about the future of our sport. I started sea kayaking in the late 90s, and in that time I have seen the rising wave of enthusiasm for ocean paddling crest, break, and dissipate on the shore. I've seen Necky move from Abbotsford and eventually die; I've seen Atlantis come and go; I've seen Nimbus fold its tent in Maple Ridge and relocate to semi-retirement on Quadra Island; I witnessed the Seaward's Dragon's Den performance; I mourned Feathercraft and, most recently, Ecomarine.

So, what do you see the state of the sport in 10 years? Gaze into your crystal balls and offer us one prediction, either local, regional, or international. Here's mine:

With the boomers aging out of the sport, the used market will be flooded with a huge number of very serviceable boats. I predict that one or more venerable British brands will die. My choice for survivor: P&H, because they understand diversifying their market and have built a strong dealer network.

Okay, I want to know what you see!

I generally second your thoughts. New boats are often unaffordable for people who don't already have them, used market can generally fill most of the demand, department store boats and paddleboards fill the needs of people who don't want to invest in the sport or skills, especially day trippers and people living in apartments, huge chunk of paddleboarding market is inflatables. There is some overlap between whitewater paddlers and ocean paddlers but whitewater crowd are more likely to get into climbing and mountainbiking. I have got back into paddling more in last year and a half after being largely absent for a few and found things changed, shrunk. Hearing about Eco going under did not surprise me . My personal experience with them had been mixed. I just hope Deep Cove and Western survive because I quite like the people who run them and the support and sense of community they provide. The question of whether the sport will bounce back , hard to say.
The future lies in Virtual Reality.
As the increased emphasis on safety gear continues to grow, especially the sort of gear that allows us to call someone else to come and get us, some people are going to realize there is an inherent risk to ocean kayaking, not like that and try to protect us from it.
The answer will be to sit on a device in our living rooms with a large headset on. The device has the ability to move around and spray water and blow air in our faces. A paddle will be attached to adjustable bungies to simulate the act of paddling. It will contain the necessary information for thousands of trips worldwide.
For those of us who like to go real-camping a portable version will be available that can be delivered along with us and our gear to a campsite of our choice by the already over-utilized water-taxis.
We will of course be able to connect with others and share our experiences over social media.
As the need for real kayaks decreases drastically the current manufacturers will all go belly up. :(
Those of us who want to get onto real water will have to do so in home made wooden and skin boats.
The sharing of plans and tips to build those boats will naturally build a strong community of dedicated and slightly batty paddlers, which is where we started... :)
I don't think Sea Kayaking will ever be cool till you can look good doing it. Mountain biking, climbing, skiing you can look like a badass. Paddleboarding you can wear shorts or a bikini. For sea kayaking you wear some kind of bloated outfit that hides your body from the sun and you end up looking like a shrivelled pale white prune after you're done. It's just not a very sexy sport.
The future lies in Virtual Reality.
Cynic :)
Those of us who want to get onto real water will have to do so in home made wooden.
The sharing of plans and tips to build those boats will naturally build a strong community of dedicated and slightly batty paddlers, which is where we started... :)
I've always done that (made everything myself). OK a "slightly batty paddler". :)
I agree with your choice of P&H. They have modern designs, follow market trends and generate media buzz. For example, take their new Virgo model. I see this shorter style of boat as being the future style/trend of the sport. It's plastic so it should be affordable. Shorter so as not to be intimidating and also approachable to a beginner since it based off the stable Scorpio series. I see just about all the manufacturers missing the boat in regards to internet marketing though. They are fortunate to have business people like Larry Showler having made videos spelling out the features of their products. P&H owes a lot of thanks to Douglas Wilcox for taking the time to review their models generating buzz for them. The Hurricane Riders generated a lot of buzz for Sterling kayaks. Wilderness Systems had a video up years ago spelling out the differences between the Tempest and Zephyr and it's one of the few videos I can think of done by the actual manufacturer. They need to do more of this and bring truth in advertising to the industry. A 16.5' x 21" wide boat does not fit anyone from 100-275lbs so why advertise it that way? Why not be honest and say that it fits well from 125-165lbs depending on what you want to use it for and explain what will happen if you are outside of that window. It's unfortunate but I can see the expensive stuff being special order only outside of a few remaining specialty shops and Co-ops like MEC. Perhaps direct to consumer? Anyway it's sad to see doors closing, hopefully that turns around but I think it will take some YouTube marketing on the part of the manufacturers to get there.
Well a huge downside of the sport is expense. When I got into it I headed to REI thinking I was spending $575 on a boat, $100 on a paddle and $50 on a life jacket. Now 8 years and thousands of dollars later the naïveté amuses me.

However, the reality is this. If you don’t know whether you’re going to like kayaking you will buy a chunk of plastic from Wal Mart, take it out twice and have a very uncomfortable experience and decide you don’t like “kayaking” and that will be that. I had a coworker do exactly that but I couldn’t dissuade him. Now you multiply this by thousands and you have many who would have been New blood who are now inoculated from it.

Perhaps we more experienced could set about thinking what kind of equipment we could recommend to our friends and others who are interested that would be good stuff but less expensive. For example I think the Dagger Stratos is a very good performing, safe and inexpensive boat I could recommend to newbies. The problem with used boats is who knows if it would fit an individual well?
Better to find a mentor to use as a sounding board, paddling partner, etc., and integrate that with rentals. As NWI says, however, the notion that one should get lessons, training, etc., is a hard sell. Living in a small city at the mouth of the Columbia, most of us are self taught with the odd lessin or workshop here and there ... and it shows in our crude techniques, I expect!
My prediction is a greatly reduced number of people kayaking on the west coast – it has been underway for a while.

Whither kayaking? or simply kayaking withering?

This topic has so many cause and effect tentacles. Changing demographics, changing customer expectations and interests, outfitters/tour companies harvesting vs growing their business, others leaving the business entirely because of new fees and regulations, guides’ and instructors’ leaving the industry, retail closures, decreasing number of kayak manufactures, reduced accessibility to beautiful areas, costs of travel just getting to the launch site (particularly if you are from out of state/province), more appealing travel destinations where one can paddle, and the high entry cost of owing your own gear, are just to name a few.

Much of the same thing happened to the scuba diving industry on the west coast. An unfortunate situation given that the BC coastal waters offer some of the absolutely best cold water diving area in the world!

As shops and manufactures leave, the few opportunities for people to try “real” kayaking we have now will decrease.

As NWimport noted: If you don’t know whether you’re going to like kayaking you will buy a chunk of plastic from Wal Mart, take it out twice and have a very uncomfortable experience and decide you don’t like “kayaking” and that will be that.

The numerous ads for “Pelican” or similar play boats one sees in Kijiji and similar sales website tells that story.

A few good stores and outfitters will likely always continue to exist. What we can do is to try to support them, even if it means paying a bit more for the same item that REI or MEC also sells.

The good news is that the number of nice used boats coming available will likely increase, the bad news is that the opportunity to check out the nice new boats coming available will likely be more difficult.
Taking some of your points Bluefoot, I've been thinking along the lines of trying to make access to the water and interesting paddling areas as easy as possible especially near high population areas.

Hence all the time spent on trying [and beginning to succeed - along with loads of help at every level] to get Howe Sound as a paddling area as well as now recently having spent 2 full weeks [after much prior work] investigating and confirming that Jervis-Texada-Sechelt is a prime paddling area - that they are all immediately adjacent to large population centres and that they are all accessible without really the necessity of the car but just a short ride down to the nearby beach.

And hopefully getting them displayed on the BC marine trails map.

There are new people showing up and a reasonable proportion are younger - my thoughts are to make it as easy and accessible and interesting as possible to encourage getting out theres. And to be inclusive of all types of beachable water transport.
Maybe the question should be asked of a prospective kayaker, "Why do you want to go on the sea?"
The second question, "Why do sea kayakers (especially those reading this thread) do it?"
Perhaps we shouldn't be so eager to recruit more paddlers, lest we ruin what attracts us?

From a recent thread (Round Nootka in early September) by LAM (underline/bold font is mine):
We were able to find a spot on Island 44, west of the main campsite which was booked up. We had checked out Rosa Island on the way over and there were so many tents on it that we didn’t bother looking for a spot for our tent.
Design and build safer Boats. Re-invent the dry suit, and other cold water gear.
Promote events that pull the general public into the sport. Do all the things that other sports do to build a fan base. CLC does a lot of promotion, but even CLC could do more to draw in the general public.
Check out what stores like Riverside Kayak (near Detroit) riverside kayak.com does to promote the the sport.
Design and build safer Boats. Re-invent the dry suit, and other cold water gear.
What did you have in mind?
CLC does a lot of promotion, but even CLC could do more to draw in the general public.
CLC is a boat kit vendor that appeals to woodworkers. Pygmy is another, with a bit more 'paddler' emphasis.
Also, the CLC 'promotion' contradicts the 'safer boats' criterion you listed. Try to find pictures of kayaks with deck lines on the CLC site. It's not easy.
Check out what stores like Riverside Kayak (near Detroit) riverside kayak.com does to promote the the sport.
This seems similar to what Pacifica and Ocean River do in Victoria?

SISKA, the sea kayak club in Victoria has had an on-going discussion about recruiting 'younger' members.
There's been a lot of thoughtful input to the conversation there.
Some of us think there's not a great deal wrong with having a sport that people come to 'later in life', when they have the time (and money) to take courses and develop skills in a sport that's new to them.

We have a political and economic system that depends on 'eternal growth' of population and 'the economy'. Recruiting more people who may not have a real interest in paddling to become kayakers seems to me a bad idea.
People who have the drive to get out in what's left of the wilderness or just on the water will find their way there - it's far far easier now compared to the olden days.
But, I'm 'an outlier' - I don't like fighting for campsites. (Or even WestCoast Trail style (?) sing-songs with 30-40 people around the campfire...) :)
Ahh, decklines, the "seatbelts" of kayaks. How many car drivers don't wear their seat belts?
How many commercial kayaks don't have decklines? Bits of bungy don't count.
Now Roy222, what were you saying about building safer kayaks?

Sea kayaking is (generally) non-competitive. That suits us older ones. We've got rid of the family thing, now we can spend some time to ourselves.
Thanks for the thoughts, everyone. Some data suggest that kayaking has seen an increase in numbers in the US over the last decade (US Outdoor Participation Report 2018), though that doesn't jive with my experience at all here in BC: I rarely share campsites on my summer trips, and my day trips on English Bay are pretty empty, especially once the summer months give way to fall.

Other sources claim that canoeing is making a comeback, given that millennials are having kids and looking to get outside with them. If so, I think that's a good sign considering the alternative: ever increasing numbers of basement dwelling, frightened neurotics who have no experience of the good earth.

Ultimately, whichever way things turn, it's not an issue for me personally. I raised both my kids on water and in the forest, and both of them have many happy memories of all the adventures we shared. And I teach high school kids to paddle and camp, which is very satisfying and a heck of a lot of fun. I'll do that until the body says otherwise.

Mac50L asked why we paddle the sea. An excellent question, one that has been answered in human myths and literature for the last few thousand years (at least). The sea is an archetype: of chaos, of the underworld, of the unconscious, of the Self, of the undifferentiated stuff of existence. Paddling the sea is about as close as I can get to understanding all of that. So I keep doing it...

I not sure how to build a safer Kayak. The car industry did not know how to build a car that you could survive a 35 mph crash into at wall. Now you can survive a 35 mph crash into a wall in any new car. There must be some innovation that could improve Kayak safety.

Maybe some kind of industry standard and ratting system build safety confidence in the general population. It is always better if an industry self regulates then pass new laws.
There must be some innovation that could improve Kayak safety.

For whom?
I don't need it. Neither do the people I kayak with.

On 2nd thought - there is something appropriate. The VHF marine forecast is useful, but not as much as it should be. Particularly if you are paddling between kyuquot & nootka island ie somewhere close to Tatchu Pt which is the divider between West Van Is North and West Van Is South - where you have to average the two forecasts or accept one & reject the other.
Which is why I just bought an inreach mini and am programming my home computer to send point weather forecasts to the inreach. I suspect it will be VERY useful.
Last edited: