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So how old is your average sea kayaker these days? 121?  Sorry, but you know it’s true.  Now we’ve talked about this issue a zillion times already and I’m not going to beat a dead Venezuelan tree frog here.  Actually, the thing about age just popped into my head the other day when I found myself talking to someone about the safety of sea kayaking in general.  

As always when talking to people who don’t paddle, you find yourself saying that kayaking is actually very safe and the people getting hurt and killed out there are nearly always making poor judgement calls and usually not wearing their life jackets.  Also now that it seems everyone can get out on the water on some form of inexpensive paddle-craft, everyone and that means EVERYONE, is.

Here in our little community of sea kayakers we know that it’s almost never (knock on wood) that an experienced sea kayaker gets in any real trouble.  Heck, we’re out playing in surf & river currents. We’re rolling in kayaks that we intentionally seal ourselves into.  We’re paddling in the big lakes and the big seas.  Still, it’s so rare for someone to get into trouble.  We know that in the end, like everything we do in life, it’s about education, practice and prudence.

That brings me back to the average age of a sea kayaker… We’re geezers.  Well, most of us anyway. And still, we’re doing ok out in the elements.  When I was talking to that person about safety the other day, the line was on the tip of my tongue, but I thought better of it.. I almost said, “Sea kayaking is so safe even your grandmother can do it”.  Now that I think of it, she probably is. . ,  And kickin’ my ass, along the way…

(Can we say “ass” on this program? I’m getting old. I forget…)

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10 Responses

  1. I’ve been pouring over the demographics for something that I just finished writing and I’m not completely convinced that we are all that old. Here’s the age rankings from 2009: 6-12 7%, 13-17 12%, 18-24 15%, 25-44 36%, 45+ 30%. I’d say that kayaking as a whole tracks pretty closely to the country’s average age if it isn’t just a touch younger.

    Where it gets interesting is it’s really a sport for people making money. 41% of participants make over $100k. 57% make over $75k.

    It’s still male dominated 56% are men. In ages 18-24 though 57% are women.

    Recreational kayaking has 6.2 million participants, sea kayaking has 1.8 million and whitewater has 1.2 million. Suck on that playboaters. :)

    Kayakers average 10 days on the water a year. Only 9% get out more than 24 times.

    Participation rates since 2006 have been growing in all age groups, except ages 6-12.

    From the statistics, kayaking is a healthy sport when compared to outdoor sports as a whole which has an average user age of about 45 and declining participant rates in age groups under 18. And I think sea kayaking should be able to convert lots of those rec kayakers.

  2. Good Info, thanks. I think your info supports why symposiums particularly are trending older. You need money to travel and paddle… So what we see at symposiums may not tell the whole story for sure.. On the other hand… It’s not that often that I see many sea kayakers in their 20s… I wonder if Rutabaga has any way to track age of attendance at Canoecopia.. .that would be interesting.. .

  3. Bryan.. looking at your numbers.. I wonder what would happen with just a slight manipulation of those age groups.. I’d still think we’d be looking at the large majority being 40+ which could be biased by income of course… I’ve thought that women would outnumber men in this sport in the long run, your numbers suggest that may happen too.

  4. I don’t have the raw data to make those types of manipulations. I’m doubtful that it’d turn the 40+ into a majority, and it wouldn’t really change the average age, which is an educated guess on my part, because they don’t offer than piece of data.

    I left out the bad news about female participation rates: in the 6-12 age group it’s 48%, but in the 13-17 age group it’s 32%. It’s just that college age group that has the advantage.

    BTW, you can download this report for free from the Outdoor Foundation, and a bunch of other fun reports there as well.

  5. deborah

    Quickly re-read this 2009 study (compiled from 2008 data, with a plus/minus of 4 %)

    First: Kayaking data by age was compiled by combining *all* kayaking groups (rec, ww, and sea). I believe if we take out the ww group we would see the numbers trend older. And very likely by taking out the rec group, too.

    How much? Not clear. I couldn’t find any data by the American WW Association which breaks down participation by age. They do list the age of the deceased in very nearly every entry in their Accident Database. They have been doing so since 1976. It would be necessary to open each entry, read it, and tabulate by age. They also include rafts and “rec boats”. So there is no good readily available data here: http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/summarize/recent/20/

    There is no age breakout for rec boaters. It would be quite useful if there were since they are by far the largest usergroup in kayaking. First, that’s a tricky category to define. – just ask the USCG in their fatality reports. Quite difficult in most case reports to determine what kayak was involved. Of course many incidents involving kayaks (including rec kayaks) occur away from waters under USCG jurisdiction. And the cynic in me says that since the rec boat category is the golden goose for retailers (from paddle shops to big box stores) that there is no urgency to break out that category. Easier to throw all groups in one pot and call them all kayakers. And so it remains in the public mind and the media who reports on kayak-related incidents.

    Second: this has not yet been discussed but I found it very startling. Just as and arguably *more* significant to predictables for safety – more than age, gender or income level.

    The average kayaker ( all categories) went out 10 times a year in the 2009 study. Ten times. Ain’t much seat time. What does that say for development of skill and judgement?

    And a startling 21% (or nearly a quarter) of ALL kayakers went out ONE time per year. Think about that. The study is counting those people as “kayakers” , participants in our sport. C’mon, really? One time is a demo day, for all practical purposes – a beginner class, a river trip, a day at a lake. Once a year.

    On the other end of the spectrum: 11% went out 12 -23 times a year (a pretty big range). Only 9% went out 24 or more times a year. Taking the two together that’s only 20% – one fifth- of all kayakers who paddle anything close to frequently.

    Clearly we have huge numbers of people in the sport who have a kayak but who aren’t kayakers. It’s been said before as we shake our heads after reading about an incident, but now we have as good a statistical proof as we’ll get for a while.

    Geez, now the number of incident reports involving kayakers is even easier to understand.

    Apologies for taking this further afield w. the second point, but it is notable.

    1. The study is about participation rates, so I think that criticizing the study for including people who get out only once per year is a little unfair to the report. Running a guiding company, I’ll gladly take that person that gets out once per year. Is that person a “kayaker?” I don’t know; define “kayaker.” Is a “kayaker” a person that gets out 10 times a year, which is the average rate? Or is a “kayaker” someone that defines himself as a “kayaker?” Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter to me. The only thing that matters to me is that people love and enjoy the sport and keep on doing it.

      As for the rest, I agree that it would be nice to have access to the raw data. I talked to a guy at the OIA about it and he didn’t have that data.

      It’s pretty clear to me that incident rates per participants is pretty small.

  6. Sherri Mertz

    Bryan, were these statistics for just the United States, U.S. & Canada, worldwide? I assume U.S., but just want to make sure I have the facts straight. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Jamie

    Going a bit off topic here:
    I’m 18 and consider myself to be a fairly serious sea kayaker-(maybe this has something to do with living on the west coast of Scotland?). I can tell you, there are very few sea kayakers of my age group out there. The main reason young people aren’t interested in sea kayaking is because they think it’s uncool. I think this is a common misconception- the sea (or any stretch of exposed water) is an everchanging dynamic environment, which provides a ‘playground’ for us Sea Kayakers. In the end though it doesn’t bother me that the folk I paddle with are much older- We share the same interest. One thing that does sometimes annoy me is the assumption that I am less competent or safe on the water, than someone 10 or 20 years older…but that is another rant:p

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