In a churchyard by a river / Lazing in the haze of midday
Laughing in the grasses and the graze.
Yellow bird, you are alone in singing and in flying on,
In and in leaving. Willow weeping in the water,
Waving to the river daughters,
Swaying in the ripples and the reeds. – pink floyd

I was considering the other day whether sea kayaks were going to disappear, or at the very least slip off into the fringes of water sports. I wondered if it will soon become unprofitable for all but a few specialized companies to produce “real” sea kayaks.  I also asked myself.. how many people really need 17 foot sea kayaks?  Today there are so many paddle craft options that better serve the needs of paddlers who once had little choice but to buy a sea kayak or canoe to get out on the water.

How many lost sea kayak sales have went to cheap plastic box store garbage boats?  How many to better quality rec boats?  How many to fishing SOTs?  When I think about sea kayaking, I mean real, big, open water “wear a skirt and learn to roll” SEA kayaking, I can’t imagine it’s ever been that big of a draw. Not really.  Most people just want to get out on the water and until recently, they had few options. I can’t help but wonder if after sea kayaking’s seemingly meteoric rise only a short number of years ago, that it is now sliding back to the outer fringe of paddle sports.

Why was I wondering such sacrilegious things you may ask?  Well, it’s based on an observation.  When I started paddling (less than 10 years ago), it was rare to see a kayak on the roof of a car.  You always waved at  the other kayakers!! Then the popularity of kayaking began to grow and it became common to see sea kayaks on vehicles.  Common enough, that I think I stopped paying attention. Then suddenly this year I realized something.  This year I’m seeing more paddlecraft than ever before sitting on the top of every sort of vehicle.  It’s amazing! Yet, hardly any of them..,  are sea kayaks.

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8 Responses

  1. corgimas

    I started working at a shop here in North east massachusetts that has been around for 20 odd years +…..
    this place has always been known for carrying all of the british boats, german boats, composite, plastic, canoes you name it they had it….

    now after all of the changes in the world of water craft i sold the last british boat in the shop on saturday (Valley aquanuat club)….and there is no plans to get anymore….we have a small selection of prijon boats and 5 Seda composites in…and everything else is hobie sit on tops….and that is the way the owner wants to keep it…we have a small selection of SUP boards as well as hobie sailboats….but the owner wants to keep the shop to hobies….the fishing world up here is doing better for him than the kayaking world did….there is still brooks tuliqs in stock and all sorts of stuff but it is slowly being cleared out….

    sort of sad to see this shop shriveling away…….i do wonder if it is also location based?????

  2. Roger

    I was paddling my Explorer this weekend at a local lake. I saw one other “real” sea kayak. All others were small rec boats. They do rent boats there, so that explains part of the large rec boat population. They are easy, but the perormance difference is so huge…I paddled most of the lake in the time it took a rec boat to paddle one side.

    I do get a lot of comments about my boat. People are very interested. But like any other sport, the vast majority want to get in and paddle with little commitment to kayaking – either in time to learn the fundamentals or in expense. They are just looking for a nice way to enjoy the day.

    That being said, I spent Sunday teaching a couple of newbies to wet exit and t-rescue. I don’t think sea kayaking is dying. Maybe just leveling off.

  3. For what it’s worth, I spent a good amount of time watching a couple practice paddle-float rescues on the weekend. I don’t think they really knew what they were doing, but I didn’t want to interfere.

  4. I was in Vermont this weekend and I could not believe how many kayaks I saw on cars. Prob half were sea kayaks. I think kayaking in general is just growing and the largest amount of growth is in the affordable/entry level rec boats. In the long term as more people become interested in the sport, more people will upgrade.

  5. We host a kayak symposium in a little town called Rossport on the Canadian side of Lake Superior. We have about 65 participants. This past year only only a handful actually rented boats, the rest all were completely outfitted. A few years ago we would be struggling to find enough rental boats to outfit all of the participants.

    Hard to say if it the sport is dwindling.

  6. Both. A lot of the new rec boaters wouldn’t have gotten into a kayak if there were only “tippy” sea kayakers. Those adventurous souls who would want a sea kayak still do. In addition, an unknown number of rec kayakers will eventually to do the “real deal.” I have had many in rec lessons ask about rolling, etc. after completing the basic course. Sometimes it is the entry level boat that gets them hooked.

  7. I wonder what number of Rec boaters “step up”? Although we all know one here or there, I’d bet it would be fair to say most do not. I’m not trying to be a drag here either. I’m actually wondering if we are accepting an overly positive assumption, that rec boaters will step up while in actuality very few will. This is fine for paddling in general. More paddlers means good things for business and for nature (I hope!) But sea kayaking could still be waning as paddlesports in general are on the rise.

    In addition while some sea kayak symposiums are doing ok, others are down quite a bit. Some shops are growing Recreational Classes while cutting sea kayaking classes. I’m sure the economy is part of the issue but if REC classes are going up, shouldn’t sea kayaking classes grow too or at the very least maintain?

    Just some thoughts.

  8. Well, IMHO, Sea kayaking requires quite a bit of commitment, which most people are afraid of. Not only that, but “real” sea kayaks cost quite a bit more than a recreational kayak… which is another deterrent, especially in this economy.

    I personally wanted to get a Sea Kayak, and did get one, but had to sell some of my Astronomy Equipment to cover the costs… which were no “chump change”…

    Here in South Florida, we are surrounded by water, and there are tons of kayaks, even though you can tell than most people will settle for the “affordable” SOTs. Nothing wrong with that… there will always be more Camrys than Ferraris…. 😉