It’s Official: Led By SUPs, Paddlesports Sales Swelling


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Paddlesports sales are swelling like the waves their followers paddle on.

As part of this year’s Outdoor Retailer Winter Online tradeshow Jan. 6, that’s what NPD Executive Director and industry analyst Dirk Sorenson pointed out in a seminar examining what’s trending in the outdoor market heading in to 2021. And Sorenson can appreciate paddlesports’ growth as well as anyone; before his retail analyst career at NPD, he held management positions at both Dagger and Perception

Person paddling inflatable kayak Advanced Elements Airvolution
Rec kayaks, like this Airvolution from Advanced Elements, are booming during the pandemic.

As consumers reinvented their lifestyles to include outdoor activities, “and looking for activities that are family friendly,” he cited a survey showing people are exercising more, with 60% of Americans working from home now who didn’t before the pandemic, giving them more time to recreate.

All this, in turn, has fueled unprecedented growth in certain outdoor categories, with paddlesports, like bicycling, leading the charge in terms of growth.

Paddlesports, in fact, occupied four out of the 10 top categories in terms of growth this past year. Leading the charge were SUPs, whitewater kayaks, PFDs and rec kayaks. Rec kayaks were up 22%; PFD sales up 46%; SUPs up 76%; Touring kayaks up 26%, canoes up 10% and whitewater kayaks up 129%.

Inflatable SUPs Surging

SUPs, he added, were the real winner, growing at a rate four times that of kayaks between May and July, led by inflatable SUPs, which were up 300% year to date. He credits this to their advantages when it comes to shipping, storage, design and travel, as well as better inventory levels.

“SUP inventory levels were up 344% over the previous March, so that helped a lot,” he said. “I think that’s because the inventory got sucked out of the rec kayak market early and SUPs are still riding some momentum of being new. Regardless, it’s a thriving market that we should look at continuing to capitalize on.”

The trick, he said, is keeping these consumers  engaged in 2021. “It‘s fair to predict lower demand in 2021 once these households reach their threshold in gear,” he said. “Once they have a kayak they likely won’t buy another.”

One way to do this is through such accessories and other add-on sales as car racks, which was another category listed in the top 10 in terms of growth, up 24%.


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