There’s something to be said for an activity that allows you to escape from cell phones, BlackBerrys, text messages and all other connections to the surrounding masses.
And more and more travelers are discovering the joys of these silent pursuits each year.
Kayaking and canoeing are among the fastest growing outdoor activities in North America, according to recent reports by both the Outdoor Industry Association and the National Sporting Goods Association.
An OIA survey conducted in January 2009, reported a 15.2 percent increase from 2007-2008 in 25-44 year olds who chose kayaking as a leisure time activity. Canoers in the same age group for the same year increased by more than 10 percent. According to the report, an increasing number of Americans participated in nature-based, outdoor activities in 2008.
And the ability to get away from it all and interact with nature, even though that activity more and more frequently takes place in an urban area where cell service is available, is considered one of the reasons for the growth in the sports. Participants speak of the internal peace that accompanies the solitude and quietness of an outing by kayak or canoe.
“There’s a virtual aquarium beneath a kayak, a tapestry of sky and water,” writes Bill and Mary Burnham, authors of “Paddling the Florida Keys” and guides for SouthEast Expeditions, a small eco-tour business on the Eastern Shore of Virginia (www.sekayak.com).
“This is a one-of-a-kind, personal experience, whether it's seeing a Great Blue Heron rookery for the first time or paddling to a Virginia winery on a historic plantation is an added value that's priceless," says Mary.
Another reason for paddling’s popularity is that it can be combined with so many other passions, such as hiking, fishing and photography. It can be done alone or with friends, for just a few hours or a few days, in aggressive rivers or quiet bodies of water.
Even first time paddlers can enjoy a sense of accomplishment because of the ease of the activity, but more die-hard enthusiasts can challenge themselves in longer outings or more aggressive waters.
“It is very accessible for all ages and abilities and even mobilities,” says the Burnhams. “It really only takes 15 minutes of instruction to get beginners into the sport.”
Zack Hoisington is in his second year of offering kayaking and canoe trips along Split Rock Creek near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He is also seeing a number of multi-generational families trying kayaking together. In addition to the relative ease of the activity, Hoisington believes the cost is an added bonus to the growth in kayaking. His rates: $35 for six hours; $50 for 24 and that includes life vests, oars, etc. He delivers the kayaks to the drop off point and will pick you up at the designated site and time.
Hoisington says the best place to kayak in the area is on the Big Sioux River itself from Brandon to Canton. The quiet river and its tributaries meander through scenic farmland and canyons created by the massive red quartzite rocks for which the region is known. A number of idyllic spots for camping along the river are highlighted on the maps that Hoisington provides.
“The water is so shallow here that at times the kayaks will scrape the sandy bottom of the creek,” Hoisington said. “That’s comforting for people who fear tipping over and getting wet or worse. This is a perfect place for beginners.”
The surveys and experts agree that the popularity of canoeing and kayaking is growing most with women and children. The only age group where kayaking is not attracting new participants is that 14-18 year old age group.
That’s probably because text messaging is just too difficult with an oar in both hands. But give them a few years and they’ll yearn for the opportunity to put all of that aside for just a few minutes of interaction with the tranquility that comes from participating in this silent sport.
Diana Lambdin Meyer