When I replaced the smoke detectors in the Paddling Magazine office last fall, I noticed the batteries will last 10 years. There’s even a little sticker on the device to write the year I installed them.

As I wrote the date on the line with a Sharpie, I wondered what the person (probably me) who changes the batteries a decade from now will think about when he sees “2020” written on the side.

Whatever happens over the next 10 years, if history is any guide at all, the year we just finished will be a mostly faded memory.

A little more than 10 years ago, supply outpaced demand in the housing market. Falling prices meant mortgage holders couldn’t sell their homes to cover the outstanding loans. The U.S. government had increased the federal borrowing rate. Thousands of questionable creditworthy homeowners who’d jumped on sub-prime interest rates were up for renewal. The defaulting loans were tied to hedge funds, derivatives and sketchy backdoor credit swaps. The burst of the housing bubble brought the U.S. banking industry to its knees, almost collapsing the world’s financial systems. Meanwhile, Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” topped Billboard’s Year-End 100 singles chart. But I bet you don’t remember that little detail either.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic because of a new coronavirus. Three months later, demand for paddlesports equipment outpaced supply.

The details of the pandemic will very likely fade from memory. We will probably forget how infected bats, or maybe pangolins, from a street market in Wuhan, China, led to social distancing regulations and the largest boom in paddlesports history. What will matter more than what just happened and how, is what we decide to do with all these new paddlers.

In this article, we asked 20 industry leaders the questions paddlers everywhere would be asking each other in bars over beers, if we could gather in bars for beers. How long will this boom last? How do we keep all these new paddlers safe? How do we keep their new boats and gear off Craigslist once Carnival’s cruise ships sail again?

For more than 20 years, I’ve been having serious conversations with marketing and sales teams, national paddling organizations, clubs, instructors, high school teachers and friends. How do we get more people into paddlesports?

Overhead shot of many colored sea kayaks and paddleboards on the water, gathered together.
Your life is to a large extent the sum of all your habits—good or bad. You have chosen at least one wisely. And you’re not alone. | Photo: Len Wagg

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the term, but an overwhelmingly optimistic growth strategy in the trade is commonly referred to as “Butts in Boats.” As in, if we can just get more people to just try paddling, they’ll love it and do it.

Will they though, really?

I went skydiving a few years ago. Maybe that industry has a similar “Newbs in Chutes” theory. Except, I only jumped once. I didn’t buy any gear. And will probably never do it again.

Never would anyone in paddlesports ever come up with a strategy to infect millions worldwide with a deadly virus. But here we are. COVID-19 put butts in boats and on boards. Lots and lots of them. More than our wildest dreams.

So, if getting more butts in boats was the answer to growing paddlesports all along, why not massive celebration among our industry professionals?

Where we will be in 3,650 days when someone (probably me) changes the batteries in the Paddling Magazine smoke detectors depends on the next 21 days. Because 21 days is the minimum amount of time it takes for someone to form a new habit. Like, say, paddling.

Thanks to the pandemic and social distancing driving thousands of new butts into boats—and some old butts back into boats, too—all we need to do now is make paddling a behavior repeated regularly. Habit research suggests 21 days of tying boats and boards to roof racks, donning PFDs and pushing off from shore is all that’s needed to create a subconscious routine, one these new pandemic paddlers will soon do automatically.

Canoeing, kayaking or paddleboarding moves them closer to what they want—adventure, relaxation, fun or fitness. It will eventually feel strange to them not to paddle. It will be such a natural thing to do, they won’t know how to explain the reasons why they love it so much. Like us.

We can help get them there.

Here’s to possibility. To better world health. To good habits. And to meeting more friends on the water than ever before. It’s going to be great.

PBG_Issue63_Cove_300w-248x300.jpegThis article was first published in Paddling Magazine Issue 63. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or browse the digital archives here.

Scott MacGregor is the founder and publisher of Rapid Media.

Your life is to a large extent the sum of all your habits—good or bad. You have chosen at least one wisely. And you’re not alone. | Photo: Len Wagg


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