‘Being able to paddle your own way’: Kayak sales skyrocket across Minnesota – Reuters
A decade or two ago I started noticing single person kayaks on the Root and Zumbro rivers in the area as well as the Boundary Waters Canoe area in Northeast Minnesota.
There were only a few here and there, a kind of novelty, a nice little boat among the bigger and heavier canoes. But I noticed how easy they were to maneuver with the long double-bladed paddles. In the BWCA, a puff passed us as we slowly paddled the canoe.
Last summer, taking photos on the Zumbro, below Zumbro Falls, the situation was dramatically different: maybe 20 kayaks with only a handful of canoes.
We are not alone here.
Statistics from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources indicate that in 2006 the state registered 146,256 canoes and 29,756 kayaks. The following year, about the same — 155,605 canoes and 33,758 kayaks. This means that canoes were about five times more popular than kayaks.
Two years ago, the DNR License Bureau registered 118,059 canoes and 64,590 kayaks, while the following year, 117,749 canoes and 66,232 kayaks.
Interestingly, the number of canoes under 16 feet was low compared to longer ones, while it was reversed with kayaks. In 2021, the DNR recorded 7,012 longer kayaks but 58,870 shorter than 16 feet.
Robb Welch would not have been surprised.
He and his wife Kristin Welch own Tyrol Ski & Sports west of Rochester and sell canoes and kayaks.
“I would say we probably sell five kayaks for every canoe,” he said. “I’ve seen it from our sales number and my personal experiences on the river. I’ve seen it over the past 15 years.
Having a solo craft has not only shifted people from canoeing to kayaking, but has added more people to paddling sports, he said. “It’s hard to put a number on that,” he said.
Kayaks are booming because they’re easier to learn to paddle and often easier to maneuver, he said. “I think it’s independence to be able to paddle your own way, at your own pace,” he said.
If one person in a canoe wants to stroll around looking at the beautiful cardinal flowers on the shore while the other wants to grow, there will be a problem. With the kayaks, you can cruise or push as you see fit. Kayaks are more instinctive to steer while canoeing takes longer to learn as both paddlers must learn to coordinate.
Welch said kayak sales started a few months ago when those who knew they wanted one came in to buy one or more, he said. And now that the real boating season has arrived, he will see more of it, he said.
There are actually three basic styles of kayaking, he said.
First are the ones where you sit higher which is great for fishing as the angler has access to the gear and the fish as well as the fish.
Second, more recreational kayaks with an open cockpit with the paddler sitting low, but the bow and stern are closed. Equipment can be stored in covered hatches to keep water out.
Third, full-fledged sea kayaks that are much longer and often have rain skirts around the paddler to keep water out. They’re often tandem and not as popular as shorter recreational craft, Welch said.
People often say they want a boat for two but nine times out of 10 they will go solo. He does not take sides. “I love them both, I do them both,” he said.
Over the past 20 years, “kayak design and session comfort have improved,” he said.
About 10 years ago, another solo paddle craft started to become very popular — paddle boards, Welch said. It died out. They are more difficult to maneuver in the wind and difficult to sit down or kneel down, he said.
Brian Sullivan, who manages the campground along the Zumbro at Zumbro Falls and also works at Zumbro Falls Canoe Rental, isn’t another person surprised by the boom in solo paddling, especially with kayaks.
He started noticing more of them 10 to 15 years ago, but they “started to show up…it’s picked up a lot in the last few years,” he said.
“There are probably more kayaks with people launching theirs than there are canoes,” he said. The rental has about 60 canoes and about 30 kayaks, and more people want to rent canoes, he said. But he also sees a lot of people launching at the public landing stage just upstream from the rental and most of them are now paddling in kayaks, he said.
Kayakers can maneuver more easily, he said. It’s a real pain if you flood one because the river has high and steep banks in many places. But then canoes aren’t exactly a joy to flood either, he said.
Most of his kayak rentals are 14ft with room inside for gear or it can be stored behind the seat, Sullivan said.
The fishing industry has also taken notice of one-person craft.
Some one-person kayaks are almost plush with room for a trolling motor (or you can paddle with your feet). The angler sits on a chair-like seat and they are wide enough to stand up to cast large slugs or 10-inch Texas-rig plastic worms. There is even a national group called Bass Kayak Fishing that holds tournaments throughout the year and Minnesota has at least two kayak fishing groups.
John Weiss has been writing and reporting on outdoor stories for the Post Bulletin for over 45 years. He is the author of the book “Backroads: The Best of the Best” by post-newsletter columnist John Weiss”