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Higher paddlesports participation expected to fuel sales

Report suggests a wave of interest toward SUP and rec markets, plus opportunities to expand audience.

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As rivers pick up steam with spring runoff, so is paddlesports participation.

That’s the finding of the Outdoor Foundation and Coleman Company, which recently released their Special Report on Paddlesports, providing a detailed look at participation in kayaking, canoeing, rafting, and (for the first time) stand up paddle boarding in the United States.

Key findings of the report, which gathered its data in 2012, include an overall paddlesports participation number of 19.2 million Americans ages six and older participating in kayaking, canoeing, rafting and SUP. Broken down, it counts 10.3 million participating in kayaking; 9.8 million canoeing; 3.7 million rafting; and 1.5 million stand-up paddling. In all, participants made 202 million outings, averaging seven days per participant.

“Paddlesports have remained a popular way for Americans to connect with the outdoors,” said The Outdoor Foundation executive director Christine Fanning. The main downside to the report, she said, concerns miniscule minority involvement. The report highlights outreach opportunities for growth.

The findings echo what most retailers are seeing in store, especially with regards to the fastest-growing participation category of SUP, which rose 36 percent from 2010 to 2012.

“We’re seeing modest growth of SUPs on the easy whitewater sections of the Deerfield River by our store, and stronger growth on local lakes and ponds,” said Bruce Lessels of Charlemont, Mass.’s Zoar Outdoor Center, which is opening a new SUP-oriented venture called Zoar Adventure Center in nearby Wilmington, Vt., near Harriman Reservoir. “We’ve seen canoeing fall off as manufacturers have become fewer. I imagine it’s a cart and horse issue — fewer participants leads to fewer boat sales.”

Elsewhere, retailers are enjoying the recent SUP surge, but recognize it’s not their boating bread and butter. “SUP sales are definitely growing, but they’re still less than 5 percent of our business,” said Dave Slover, owner of Oregon’s Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe.

He added that sea kayaking sales are slowly receding like an outgoing tide. “Touring is off about 40 percent from its peak for us in 2007.” Picking up the slack, he said, and echoing The Outdoor Foundation’s findings, is the burgeoning rec market. “The meat of our business is $700 to $1,400 rec and day touring kayaks, that measure between 10 and 14 feet.” Rentals, tours, lessons and symposiums are growing in all categories.

One inherent problem facing retailers regarding increasing SUP participation and sales is space. Like tandem sea kayaks, they’re a cumbersome and big SKU for brick-and-mortars, as both Slover and Lessels attest. Zoar Outdoor Center carries fishing kayaks, SUPs and whitewater boats, and Lessels says shelf space for all comes at a premium. “We have all three in the attics of three different buildings,” Lessels said, adding that this year’s retail business has been quite strong this spring despite the near-record cold and snow. “They’re definitely a big item.”

Here are some other report highlights:

>> Kayaking has enjoyed steady growth since 2010, climbing to a participation rate of 3.6 percent of Americans ages six and older in 2012. Recreational kayaking is the most popular type, followed by sea/tour kayaking and whitewater kayaking. More than 63 percent of kayakers get out one to three times per year.

>> Canoeing is the second most popular type of paddling behind kayaking; 3.4 percent of Americans age six and older participated in canoeing in 2012. Canoeing participants get out more often than kayaking participants with nearly 50 percent of making four or more outings per year. Canoeing appeals to youth and is the most popular paddlesport among Americans ages 6 to 17.

>> Rafting sees participation of 1.3 pecent of Americans ages six and older. Thirty-eight percent of rafters make only one outing per year and 68 percent make three outings per year or less.
Participation in rafting fell from 2010 to 2011 but remained relatively steady from 2011 to 2012. Rafting is most popular among teenage boys.

>> The emerging sport of stand-up paddling made modest participation gains from 2010 to 2012, when participation grew from 1.1 million participants to 1.5 million. In 2012, stand-up paddling participants made 9.6 million outings. Stand up paddling appeals most to young adults ages 18 to 24 and adults ages 25 to 44 — an age group which saw significant participation gains in 2012.

For more information, download the report here:

And participation is only half of the equation for paddlesports, check out the forecast for Western U.S. streams and rivers to see where the water will be flowing this spring and summer.

–Eugene Buchanan