What are you most excited about in 2021?
The number of new people introduced to the sport of paddling for the first time. Initially fueled by COVID-19 and the opportunity to be active and physically distance at the same time, being on the water provided an opportunity to get outside safely alone or with friends. Families found it a great outlet to keep their kids active and engaged, and in the process, many discovered a new passion that will far outlast the COVID restrictions. —Ruth Triglia, SVP of Sales, Hobie
The incredible growth in the past year is great for business, but it’s also great for the environment. The more people engage with the outdoors, the more they care for it and want to protect it. —Shane Benedict, Cofounder, Liquidlogic Kayaks
I’m most excited about the resurgence of small local shops and experiences in our backyards. Paddlers and outdoor enthusiasts flocked to their local stores last summer and fall, looking for the best and most accessible equipment, so they could get out on the water and be well. That is a good sign for the industry and a sign a good percentage of people are following a visceral gut instinct and getting out in nature. —Nolin Veillard, Founder, TRAK Kayaks
Before the pandemic changed everything, paddling participation was concentrated in a fairly static and homogenous core audience. Now, we’re seeing a larger and more representative range of people paddling, a positive trend likely to continue. We can all help by working to make our sport more welcoming and inclusive. —Mark Deming, Director of Marketing, NRS
Right now, the most exciting trend is a move toward growing the sport through diversity. It’s great for the adventure sports industry and connecting more people to nature’s health and social benefits. The best thing the wider community can do is support people of color on the water. Ask if they’d like to come out and try the sport and be welcoming at every opportunity. This is stepping out of the comfort zone for a lot of people. You may have to ask more than once. I think it’s worth it. What all of us want is more cool people to boat with. —Antoinette Lee Toscano, Cofounder, Diversify Whitewater
Portability. More people want to have the ability to do multiple activities when on vacation. That means bringing kayaks, bikes, fishing gear, paddleboards and more. With one or two kayaks packed in a duffel, this is possible. The RV boom during the past year has added to this need, and a couple of kayaks or SUPs in a storage locker in your RV or trailer means less gear on racks outside to worry about.—Clay Haller, Founder, Advanced Elements
What are the biggest challenges facing the industry?
The pandemic has challenged the paddlesports industry.The unexpected growth, coupled with insufficient supply, shipping and fulfillment, has caused problems for brands and retailers. Service providers have had huge challenges with ever-changing and unclear rules of operation, and they have had to regularly pivot to do their best to meet customers’ needs and safety protocols.—Kristin Thomas, Interim President, SUP Industry Association
Meeting demand. Phones have been ringing off the hook, and there was no off-season. For most of the industry, the challenges are managing the supply chain, the shortfall, keeping costs down, limiting price increases, and prioritizing who to sell to. I don’t know anyone who isn’t having some issues. That means extensive lead times and a shift in expectations for consumers. I think one of the questions we’re all asking is, when is the drop-off? When will demand soften or fall out? Some people hope it’ll take years; others think it’ll be weeks or months. There’s a lot of presold boats, a lot of panic-buying inventory, and the question is, when does the inventory hangover start to impact dealers. It’ll be a real challenge in the future.—Andrew Stern, Marketing Manager, Bending Branches
Internally, COVID-19 travel restrictions have been especially hard for companies like us with employees in Canada and the USA. As the outdoor boom continues, supply chain and logistics issues are a huge challenge to get products into consumers’ hands. As restrictions lift, the challenge will be to take all of these new entrants into paddlesports and keep them engaged and stoked on paddling.—Josh Horoshok, VP Recreation Category, Mustang Survival
2020 was the perfect storm that showed why we feel everyone should be kayaking… It’s healthy. It gets you outdoors, away from crowds and breathing clean air. It’s something you can do safely with friends and family—and six feet apart is normal. It’s cheaper than motorboats. As an industry, we learned we need to keep broadcasting these realities to those who don’t paddle. Dispel the myths and show folks just how amazing, safe and fun it is out on the water. —James McBeath, Director of Marketing, Jackson Adventures
The last year brought an influx of new paddlers—what’s the recipe for creating enthusiasts?
It’s about connecting to water and nature and to others who share the love of paddling. This past year temporarily severed that connection, only to be rebuilt and shared on an even grander scale. If they can find the gear, they’ll find the water and their people.—John Beausang, Paddle Monster
At the manufacturer level, we all recognize how many people came into the sport this year who we need to keep engaged with new products and marketing. We also need to get events running again—that could be races, but also events where we can get groups of people together. The social aspect of paddlesports is what binds us together. Regardless of what discipline, we need to grow those social roots and keep people connected as a whole. It’s what we’re all missing most.—Chris Hipgrave, Director of Sales, Pyranha
Making products that are accessible, easy to travel with and versatile. Also, encouraging continuous learning, skill development, community engagement and just having fun on the water.—Eron Chorney, Director Recreation Product & Merchandising, Mustang Survival
More important than skills is to make them feel welcome in our community. We need to meet people where they’re at and embrace them. If they’re paddling kayak-shaped objects they bought at Costco, fine. They’ll figure out soon enough that upgrading to better designed boats will enhance their paddling enjoyment.—Darren Bush, Owner, Rutabaga Paddlesports
Making paddlesports more accessible and appealing to all, not just adrenaline junkies. Whether it be fun, youthful colors and designs and marketing, or simply showing the world the stigma of whitewater being dangerous is a non-truth. The best way to create enthusiasts is through education and a welcoming experience. It’s important for new paddlers to join the scene and not feel intimidated by the sport.—Alexandra Aldecoa, Marketing Manager, AIRE
With so many new enthusiasts, how can the community encourage on-water safety?
With many new participants in the sport, we all have to put personal safety first when choosing to head out on the water. Be sure that your life vest is adjusted appropriately. If the water is cold, wear a drysuit or drytop. Keep an eye on the other people you see and please help if they need it.—Jeff Turner, Director of Sales, Kokatat
Paddlers need to do two things: wear a life jacket 100 percent of the time they’re on the water and gently encourage others to do the same. I have talked to paddlers at put-ins and tried to say in a lighthearted manner, “Y’know, that life jacket works better when you’re wearing it.” I usually get the “I paddle this all the time; I’m a good swimmer” treatment. I’ll say, “Well, true, but you can’t swim if you tip and bang your head on a rock.” We laugh. And they don’t put it on. But maybe some of it will sink in.—Darren Bush, Owner, Rutabaga Paddlesports
Hand in hand with inexperience are risks when heading out on the water or into the backcountry. Newcomers need to make sure they have taken the time to learn about water safety, including wearing PFDs, understand their limits and that of their watercraft. They should talk to experienced paddlers, research their route and destinations thoroughly. Even better, go out with someone experienced. For those seasoned paddlers out there, keep an eye out for newbies on the water and lend them a helping hand if you can.—Chris Rath, Owner, Nova Craft Canoe
What’s the next innovation you’re excited for?
The saying in product design and development goes, “Lightweight, durable and affordable—pick two.” Brands are chasing the Holy Grail of all three, and over time the needle keeps moving in that direction, but it’s not easy.—Jimmy Blakeney, North American Product,Marketing & Digital Manager, Tahe Outdoors
After a few years of industry growth, we are seeing more and more kayak anglers becoming kayakers. They are exploring, outfitting for more challenging waters, and going further outside their comfort zones on different waters. Innovation will come in gear and kayak setups for multiday tripping and more challenging expeditions. That’s about hull performance, storage and soft goods to support different conditions.—James McBeath, Director of Marketing, Jackson Adventures
We’re all looking for the magic material where weight continues to drop down without affecting impact resistance. Cool stuff is going on with graphene materials, which is going to filter down eventually. For now, lightweight material with impact resistance that doesn’t massively inflate costs is what we’re all looking for, but no one has found the magic pill—and, of course, manufacturing in a sustainable way.—Chris Hipgrave, Director of Sales, Pyranha
I would love to see the community inspired to hang gates. In the ‘70s, there was a lot of interest in the discipline of slalom, and it remains an Olympic event. Since then, many slalom courses on natural rivers have disappeared. Slalom courses invite people to consider what is possible with their own paddling. The installation of gates on natural waterways provides a strong visual and fantastic link between the burgeoning recreational community and paddlesports disciplines that require more skill progression. Creating a link will help knit the entire paddlesports community together. Innovate by going old school.—Brett Mayer, Stewardship and Public Policy Director, ACA
What issue should all paddlers be paying attention to right now?
It’s great to see so many new people paddling, but many new paddlers are unfamiliar with basic paddling safety and ethics. We have seen increased impacts on our natural resources and an alarming number of accidents as a result. As a paddling community, we need to spread the word about how to be good stewards of the land and water, how to stay safe and how to represent our sport in a positive way.—Mark Deming, Director of Marketing, NRS
There are numerous public paddling groups on Facebook where lots of new paddlers turn to for advice: where to go, what kind of vessel to buy. And though well-meaning, some group members lack the education or experience to give sound advice. Paddlers, new and seasoned, should understand their limits, abilities and knowledge—what you don’t know, you don’t know. The answer: Take a course. You will learn safe and efficient paddling, ensuring you know what you’re doing. This makes the experience more enjoyable in the long run. If you’ve invested in a kayak, canoe or standup paddleboard, part of the investment should include how to use them.—Michelle McShane, Executive Director, Paddle Canada
B2B, it’s the sell-off of brands and retailers. Pre-covid, times were less than ideal for many, and an aging industry was looking for buyout opportunities. I expect the sale of Hobie to be the first domino chip to fall of many who want to take advantage of this unique opportunity while brands can fetch a good sale price while the market is hot.—Andrew Stern, Marketing Manager, Bending Branches
Paddlers, and everyone who cares about rivers, should be watching and advocating for the Snake River in the Pacific Northwest. This is our chance for the biggest river restoration project the world has ever seen. Once the largest salmon producer in the Columbia River basin, today Snake River salmon runs are at the brink of extinction. The loss of salmon is an existential threat to Northwest tribes who depend on the fish for their cultures and identities, and endangers Southern Resident killer whales that rely on salmon as their primary food source. Salmon-dependent businesses and a once-thriving sport and commercial fishing industry have also been devastated.—Amy Souers Kober, Vice President, Communications, American Rivers
This moment we’re in—global pandemic, social justice uprising, divisive politics, climate change—everything we do has an impact on others and the planet. Paddling gives us an avenue to get away from stresses and into adventure and wonder. Paddling brings us together through those experiences, whether we’re on the river or sitting around the campfire. If we can invite, share and experience with people different than us, maybe we will find a way to make the world better and more just.—Shane Benedict, Cofounder, Liquidlogic Kayaks
To immunity and beyond. | Photo: Anita Stewart