First it was a pandemic bicycle boom. Now there's a kayak kick

·3 min read

Add kayaks to pandemic's isolation busters

We used to be cooped up. Now we're going kayak-crazy.

The lockdown's end, the arrival of summer-like weather and encouraging COVID-19 trends have sparked a frenzied return to outdoor activities across Southwestern Ontario — and kayaking is among the biggest end-of-the-pandemic trends, merchants and longtime enthusiasts say.

“We're selling 12 kayaks a day,” said Brad Goodreau, owner of Southwest Paddle Co. in Croton, a community near Dresden, about an hour southwest of London.

“It’s just crazy. I’m going to say by the end of July, we’ll be sold out again.”

Goodreau said his store has sold 320 kayaks already this summer, compared to 180 all last year and five times the number sold in an average year before the pandemic.

Prices have jumped, too, he said, citing one example of a model that went from $550 to $750. Nearly all of the kayaks are pre-ordered, with 250 more set to arrive between now and August, Goodreau said.

There's been a bicycling boom over the past year amid lockdowns and social-distancing rules. A kayak kick appears to be following.

“I think more and more people than ever are getting into the outdoors," said Ashley Govers of London's Paddle Shop. "It's one of the only ways you can do things with people outside your household."

Sales at the store have tripled since this time last year, she said. “We just received a shipment of about 70 kayaks, and every single one of them came pre-sold.”

Many customers are young couples with kids or seniors who tried out the sport last year and want to upgrade to a better-quality kayak, Govers said.

A standard recreational kayak is made of roto-molded plastic, “which is very durable,” and best for beginner- to intermediate-level kayakers, with prices ranging from $720 to $800, Govers said. Other kayaks, like those built for fishing, go for upwards of $3,000.

Retailers are also seeing a jump in demand for inflatable kayaks as well as paddleboards and canoes.

But as more people turn to water sports, rental and training programs remain shuttered, so experts are concerned beginners won’t have the proper training to navigate their kayak safely.

“The pandemic is causing interest (in kayaking), but it also limits the number of spots and the types of lessons (available),” said Ian Mortimer, director of development at Canoe Kayak Canada, an umbrella agency for competitive canoeing and kayaking and organizations that teach paddling.

“But what we do know is, if 10 spots open up for a lesson, wherever they are, they are filling up.”

Mortimer laid out some tips for first-time paddlers this summer:

Popular local spots for kayaking include the Sharon Creek Conservation Area, about 22 kilometres southwest of London; along the Thames River; and Fanshawe Lake in the Fanshawe Conservation Area in northeast London.

The non-profit London Canoe Club promotes paddle sports across the region. It reopened last weekend and 170 members have joined already, president Janet Taylor said.

"Three to four years ago, we wouldn’t even get that many members in a full season.”

cleon@postmedia.com

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Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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