If you walk into a store looking for a kayak or canoe, chances are you won’t find one.
Local retailers are running out of the water-bound vessels due to an overwhelming crush of demand this summer.
“We sold almost every boat in our store last year, which we hadn’t done for a number of years. And that demand has just continued through this summer,” Robb Welch, co-owner of Tyrol Ski & Sports in Rochester, said.
Welch attributed the surge in interest to people wanting to leave their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. And with vaccination rates high and cases low in the Rochester area, more people are feeling comfortable stepping into the outdoors for an escape.
They’ve often found refuge on the water.
“The outdoors are a safe environment for people to get out and do activities in the COVID era,” Welch said.
“People are just looking to find new hobbies and passions,” Lauren Belter, an assistant store leader at Scheels in Rochester, said.
But those rising sales have overloaded the supply chain, and many stores are struggling to restock kayaks, canoes and other water-based gear.
Welch said Tyrol has only had two niche kayaks in stock for the past month, and he just received a shipment of canoes Monday that he ordered last October. He said one of his kayak suppliers is backordered through at least September.
The run on equipment could also have a detrimental effect on small shops.
Mel Hayner, owner of The Driftless Fly Fishing Company in Preston, said most of the kayaks and canoes that are being produced are being snapped up by major retailers like Walmart, leaving regional and local stores like his behind.
“It’s a trickle,” Hayner said. “The big guys are buying all they can get. … Some of (the kayaks) are not going to be available until 2022. The small dealers are the ones that are hurting.”
Hayner said he’s fortunate that kayaking is a secondary business for him, so the shortage does not have as big of an impact. Still, it’s a testament to just how popular it’s become to spend time on the water.
And this run of extraordinary sales could continue. With socially distant outdoor activities a safe and fun recreational option, demand for kayaks is likely to remain high, both Welch and Hayner said.
“People are rediscovering (the outdoors), partly because everything else is closed down but partly because, ‘Hey, we’ve got the whole world here,’” Hayner said. “People are having their own little epiphanies about, ‘Let’s go outside more.’”