The Year of the Yak: How COVID-19 Created a Kayak Sales Boom

In an age of face masks, Zoom happy hours, and takeout on the couch, people are looking for more and more ways to get outside and into nature.

Thankfully, the outdoors offers us a ton of ways to stay active and entertained while also staying socially-distant.

It didn’t take long for the quarantine-fatigued masses to notice this, as outdoor gear has been flying off the shelves faster than stores can re-stock them. This has manifested itself most heavily in booming kayak sales.

Are Kayaks the New Toilet Paper?

Casey Shilling, Owner of Carried Away Outfitters in Sharon, PA chatted with The Sharon Herald about the uptick he’s seen in kayak sales. Shilling says, “Kayaks are being described as the new toilet paper. Everyone is going out and buying them.”

Shilling says there are multiple factors contributing to the kayak boom. Not only have people been cooped up for months and want to get outside, but the scariness of COVID-19 has reminded everyone that life is short — it’s time to get out and live.

The Year of the Yak

I reached out to my favorite local kayak store, Austin Canoe & Kayak (ACK), to see how they’ve been impacted by the new kayak demand.

Justin Mercer, ACK’s AI Content Marketing Coordinator, says that they have seen a huge influx in kayak sales this year and have even started calling 2020, “The Year of the Yak.” I mean, they’re not wrong! Even I purchased my Oru Beach LT kayak back in March as a relief from the indoors.

He’s seen one of the biggest bumps in the sale of fishing kayaks. “At the beginning of quarantine, many parks closed fishing from shore and boat ramps, but still allowed kayak fishing,” Mercer says. “This forced many people who had motor boats or no boats to go out and purchase a kayak.”

“Some people didn’t even care what kind of kayak they were getting, just as long as something was available. I would expect to see a lot more people kayaking in the years to come.”

– Justin Mercer, Austin Kayak

Baby Kayakers are Flocking

Mercer also thinks a lot of first-timer and beginner kayakers, in an attempt to social distance, stay cool, and get some exercise, used their $1,200 government stimulus to secure themselves a quarantine kayak.

“It has been a fun year in kayak sales helping so many [new] people find their way on the water. Our staff is great at helping people figure out what kayak will best fit their needs.”, Mercer said.

When I asked him if they’d noticed people flocking to any particular kayak brand, he said people didn’t really seem to care as long as they were getting something.

“We have sold most all of our boats and are getting them in as quickly as they are going out,” said Mercer. “Some people didn’t even care what kind of kayak they were getting, just as long as something was available. I would expect to see a lot more people kayaking in the years to come.”

$405 Million in Kayak Sales

And according to research and data company, The NPD Group, Mercer just might be right. NPD says, “For the 12-month period ending in May 2020, including a period when everyone found it hard to look at their sales numbers, recreational kayaks racked up more than $405 million in sales throughout outdoor retail channels.” 

Even Rentals Are Getting Some Love

Elevator Alley Kayak in Buffalo, NY both sell and rent kayaks, which has been a saving grace during this time of sold-out inventory and slow supply chains.

Owner Jason Mendola says that production at his facilities in South Carolina has been cut over 50%, which makes it hard to keep kayaks in stock. “It’s a good thing we have rentals,” Mendola told The Buffalo News, “those are up 30%.”

Has this been the year of the yak for you? Do you think the growing popularity will last? Drop your thoughts in the comments.

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