The Outdoor Foundation recently published the Outdoor Recreation Participation Topline Report 2012 in which it publishes the participation rates in outdoor recreation from 2011. I find these numbers of interest to paddlers, and these numbers are something that we can directly affect be introducing people to the sports of kayaking and canoeing.
The report starts out with some good news:
In 2011, outdoor recreation among americans reached the highest participation level in the last five years. Nearly 50 percent of all americans ages six and older, or 141.1 million individuals, participated in at least one outdoor activity in 2011, making 11.6 billion outings. In fact, last year, americans enjoyed 1.5 billion more outings than the previous year. Compared to 2010, participation in outdoor activities increased slightly among all age groups from 6 to 44, while participation among those ages 44 and up remained relatively flat.
But also contained some bad news.
Outdoor participation among youth and young adults continued the promising but modest trend — with one percentage increases in every age bracket, 6 to 12, 13 to 17 and 18 to 24 respectively. This accounted for more than 4 billion outdoor outings for the younger generation with an annual average of nearly 90 outdoor outings. While encouraging, these rates are significantly lower than those recorded in 2006. For example, 63 percent of youth ages 6 to 12 participated in outdoor recreation in 2011, compared to 78 percent in 2006.
As far as paddlesports these are some really good statistics:
The three year trend shows recreational kayak up 32% and whitewater kayaking up 24%. Sea kayaking/touring showed a 14% increase over three years, which masks a drop of 115,000 users from 2010 to 2011. Recreational kayaking dominated the one year change with an increase of 27%. It went from 6,465,000 users to 8,678,000 user in one year. The only other paddlesport ranking high in the one year change is stand up paddling. It showed a 18% increase. The user rate rose from 1,050,000 users to 1,242,000 users, which is only about 200,000 users less than whitewater kayaking. That’s a big jump in users for a new sport. If it keeps up the growth by next year there will be more stand up paddlers than whitewater kayakers and it could have as many users as sea kayaking.
On the other hand, canoeing showed a -1.5% change over three years, which translates to a drop of 3/4 of a million users in one year!
As far as participants in 2011, canoeing had 9,787,000 users, recreational kayaking had 8,229,000 users, sea kayaking had 2,029,000, whitewater had 1,546,000 users and stand up paddling had 1,242,000 users.
My take on the numbers is this, paddlesport participants are looking for easier and more relaxing experiences. Recreational kayaking, canoeing and stand up paddling are portrayed as peaceful and easy to learn. The advertisement is geared that way as well. Although sea kayaking and whitewater paddling show growth, I’d guess that the general public perceives these aspects of the sport as more highly specialized, scary and complex. My experience as a guide seems to jive with this take. Even with a guide, people are afraid of kayaking on Lake Superior (ocean-like) in a sea kayak as opposed to kayaking on a small inland lake in a kayak with a big cockpit. Thus the lower user rate. All the recent sea kayaking films show people paddling in big water, waves and around rocks. While this may drive participation rates in the short term, I think if we continue to show sea kayaking like this, we’ll stagnate in participation rates and alienate a user base looking for a more relaxing experience. To back this up, look at the participation rates in sports perceived as dangerous, such as climbing with a -23.5% drops, rafting at -17.9%, surfing at -15.8% or most of the other “extreme” sports. They’re all dropping. Right now, I think Americans are trying to get away from danger and risk. Then look at relaxing sports, such as snowshoeing and its 40% increase. Now, Americans just want to relax and have that easy going getaway experience.
My guess is that stand up paddling will continue to grow and surpass sea kayaking and whitewater within a year or two. I think it will max out at the most — but probably less than — at about half of the users recreational kayaking and canoeing have but never overtake those two sports — think something like windsurfing. This is based on a gut feeling with nothing to back it up other than a significant number of kayakers and canoeists that I know personally think that stand up paddling looks silly. It just isn’t going to make converts out of paddlers.
If you have a different take on these numbers, please, post it below.