Paddling Statistics: Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding

It isn’t hard to notice that we here are Gorp love paddling.  Whether it is kayaking, canoeing, or paddleboarding, you can often finding our staff propelling themselves across both freshwater and saltwater.

Paddling is actually quite interesting, and here are a few facts on the sport.

Paddling Industry Statistics

  • If you are getting in to paddling, you are not alone. Paddlesports (which includes kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding) is a growing industry as more and more people take to it. It was definitely aided by Covid, which got more people outside. Paddling has a global market valued at $2.4 billion in 2020 and expected to reach $3.3 billion by 2027. This represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.5% during the next several years. (Source: Allied Market Research).paddleboarding
  • Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP), of the bunch, is the fastest-growing segment in the paddlesports industry, with a growth rate of 8.5% per year over the next few years. This is due to the sport’s accessibility, versatility, and low barrier to entry.  Just about every lakeside resort or seaside rental shop is offering SUPs. (Source: Allied Market Research)
  • Paddling is done around the world, but North America is the largest market for paddlesports, accounting for over 50% of the global market share. The continent’s popularity with paddling is probably due to its abundance of freshwater (both lakes and rivers), seasonal climate, and strong outdoor culture. (Source: ResearchAndMarkets)
  • While SUPs are catching up in terms of overall market share, kayaks are still the most popular product in the paddlesports industry, accounting for over 50% of the paddling market share (despite having only 8% of the world’s population.) This is due to paddleboarding’s versatility, ease of use, and suitability for a wide range of activities, from recreational paddling to competitive racing. They are also popular for everything from lake resort recreation to hard-core sea touring. (Source: ResearchAndMarkets)
  • Inflatable paddleboards are gaining popularity due to their convenience and ease of storage. They have a growth rate of 9.2% over the next few years, making their growth rate even a little stronger than the paddleboard segment in general. Inflatable kayaks contrast with fiberglass or wood boards, which are arguably more beautiful but also more expensive and harder to store. (Source: Allied Market Research)
  • Canoeing just might be the original of the bunch. It is also a popular activity, with the global market expected to grow at an annual rate of 4.6% over the next several years. Canoes are popular for their stability, capacity, and suitability for multi-day trips.  They are particular popular on calmer inland lakes. Many go back and forth on the merits of canoeing vs. kayaking. (Source: Allied Market Research)
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns boosted the sales of paddlesports equipment, as people were looking for outdoor activities that can be done while social distancing. Paddlesports are a generally safe (as long as you wear your paddling lifejacket) and healthy way to enjoy the outdoors and have seen a surge in popularity during the pandemic. (Source: Snews)

Paddling History and Facts

  • Kayaking has its roots in the Inuit people, who used these boats for hunting and fishing. They developed the kayak using animal hides stretched over a wooden frame. The word “kayak” is derived from the Inuit language, meaning “hunter’s boat.” While there is no written history going that far back, the first kayaks appear to be about 5,000 years old, based on archeological finds.
  • Stand-Up Paddleboarding is much newer — it began in Hawaii in the 1940s. It was initially used by surf instructors to stand on their boards and watch their students. It has since evolved into a popular water sport worldwide, with various disciplines such as surfing, racing, and yoga. Paddleboards can now be found at nearly every lakeside resort or seaside equipment rental shop.
  • Canoeing is the oldest of them all. It is one of the oldest forms of water transportation, dating back over 10,000 years. It was primarily used for transportation and trade, and the boats were typically made from birch bark, dugout logs, or animal skins. The earliest excavated canoes were found in Northern Europe, in what is now Denmark and the Netherlands.
  • Perhaps the biggest canoeing advancement of the 20th century was the introduction of kevlar canoes. In 1973, the first lightweight kevlar canoes were introduced.  Until then, mass-produced canoes were made of aluminum, or in some cases wood.
  • The fastest recorded kayak speed is 17.57 mph, achieved by Spanish athlete Antonio de la Rosa in 2019. This demonstrates the potential for high-performance kayaking and the skill and athleticism required to achieve such a feat. To put it in perspective, the typical canoe being propelled at a strong, steady pace is in the 3-4 mph range.
  • The longest canoe trip ever recorded was 12,875 miles and took seven years to complete. This incredible feat highlights the endurance and dedication required for long-distance canoeing. It was done in 1986 by a father and son in North and South America, from Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada) to Brazil.

Paddling Health Facts

  • Kayaking and canoeing, can all provide a significant workout. It can burn up to 500 calories per hour, making it an excellent form of exercise. That kind of calorie burn puts it on par with cycling. Additionally, kayaking can improve cardiovascular health, increase muscle strength, and reduce stress levels.
  • Paddleboarding can burn even more calories than kayaking or canoeing, with ACE estimating that an average person can burn between 500 and 700 calories per hour while paddleboarding at a moderate pace.
  • Paddling is a low-impact activity, making it ideal for people of all ages and fitness levels. It’s easy on the joints, making it a great option for those with arthritis or other mobility issues. The most common paddling injuries are shoulder soreness, which tends to be rare.
  • Stand-Up paddleboarding, in particular provides an excellent core workout and very effective balance work for your body. As you do more of it, you strengthen the muscles which stabilize your body, which translates to a stronger overall core for other activities.

Facts About Some Paddling Races

Paddling races might not be as abundant as 5Ks or other races, but they exist and are a ton of fun. As great paddling areas emerge, they are often hosting competitive events. Here are a few noteworthy ones.

  • The Yukon River Quest – This is a 444-mile (715 km) race in Canada’s Yukon Territory. It’s considered the longest annual canoe and kayak race in the world. In 2021, 56 teams from around the world participated, with the fastest team completing the race in just under 42 hours. Source: Yukon River Quest.kayak race
  • The Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships – This is a 32-mile (51 km) paddleboard race across the Ka’iwi Channel in Hawaii. It’s considered one of the most challenging and prestigious paddleboard races in the world, with competitors facing strong currents and swells. In 2021, over 250 paddlers from 23 countries participated, with the fastest paddler completing the race in just under 4 hours. Source: Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships.
  • The AuSable River Canoe Marathon – This is a 120-mile (193 km) canoe race in Michigan that takes place overnight. The race starts at 9 PM and finishes the following day, with competitors paddling through the darkness with only headlamps to guide them. In 2021, over 70 teams participated, with the winning team completing the race in just over 14 hours. It is near one of our favorite MIdwest flyfishing areas too. Source: AuSable River Canoe Marathon.
  • Texas Water Safari – This is a 260-mile (418 km) canoe and kayak race from San Marcos to Seadrift in Texas. The race takes place over 100 hours and is considered one of the toughest endurance races in the world. In 2021, 74 teams participated, with the fastest team completing the race in just over 37 hours. Source: Texas Water Safari.
  • The Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race – Let’s move out of the USA for a minute. This is a 125-mile (201 km) canoe and kayak race in the UK, starting in Devizes and finishing in Westminster. The race takes place over the Easter weekend and is considered one of the most prestigious canoe races in the world. In 2021, over 100 teams participated, with the fastest team completing the race in just under 16 hours. Source: Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Facts

We LOVE the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota when it comes to canoeing. A paddling experience like no other.  Here are a few facts about the pristine area.

  • The BWCA is actually one of the largest Wilderness Areas in the United States. It is home to over 1,000 lakes and streams and is bordered by Canada to the north. The only way to get around is by portaging, and there are about 4,000 of them if you count every last one.
  • The BWCA has an interesting history, as it was actually settled in the first part of the 20th century….. and of course, prior to that, was native territory.  The BWCA as we know it was established in 1964 and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. It’s part of the Superior National Forest and is considered a protected wilderness area, which means it’s preserved in its natural state and visitors must follow certain regulations.
  • The Boundary Waters is a popular Minnesota destination for canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and camping. In fact, it’s estimated that over 150,000 people visit the BWCA each year, with the majority of visitors coming between May and September.  That is just the USA side — if you count Quetico National Park in Canada, the number would be much higher.
  • Permits are required to enter the BWCA (you get them for a specific entry point) and are issued on a first-come, first-served basis. Most years, over 80,000 permits are issued for overnight trips and over 20,000 permits were issued for day trips.

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