Paddlesports are Booming
While city streets may be less congested due to an increase in teleworking, the waterways are seeing quite a bit more traffic. Bay boaters are back in full force now that the weather is favorable and restrictions are lifted. It’s not just the powerboats and sailboats that are cruising the Bay and its tributaries; kayaks and stand-up paddleboards (known as SUP by those who use them) are coming out in droves. Paddlesports offer the chance to enjoy outdoor exercise, time in quiet solitude and an up-close look at Bay flora and fauna.
It’s a welcome boom for those in the business of selling and renting paddling supplies, kayaks and boards. “Our biggest seller right now, other than bicycles, are twin kayaks. We can’t keep them in stock—they are flying out the door and people keep coming in wanting to order more,” says Karen Remington, co-owner of Bulldog Schwinn & Sports in Severna Park. Remington says that kayak manufacturers are behind on production because of the sudden high demand. “People know it’s healthy and safe to get outdoors.”
Kayaks and paddleboards are an easy avenue for everyone to get on the water, says Joey Sikorski, general manager at Patuxent Adventure Center in Solomons. The company sells and rents kayaks and paddleboards as well as bicycles. “Paddlers have access to places that boats don’t have, so they should take advantage of that. There are so many great backwater creeks and marshes to explore and you don’t have to worry about boat traffic. You can get lost out there—in a good way. I feel safer on the water in a kayak.”
Since they opened up their paddlesport locations in Solomons and Leonardtown three weeks ago, Patuxent has run out of kayak rentals and are selling boats and paddleboards as fast as they get them in. “Some of our boats are sold before they even make it to the store,” says Sikorski. “Both rental and retail, sales have gone up pretty good, which is nice, sometimes it can be hit or miss for us, competing with big stores like Dicks Sporting Goods, so we like to say we begin where the big store stuff stops.”
With new sanitation and distancing guidelines, paddlesport businesses just didn’t know how they’d fare in the 2020 season.
Capital SUP in Annapolis normally has already held race training programs and school field trips by this time of year. All of that was canceled when the races and schools shut down. They reopened last week after a lot of waiting.
“Things have actually been going well,” says owner Chris Norman. “We’ve definitely seen a nice little boost this season, probably a 10-15 percent increase. I’m not sure if it’s coronavirus-related or people just figuring out where we moved to.”
The paddleboard rental company spent five seasons on Spa Creek before moving to the Ellen O. Moyer Nature Park last year. Norman says their pandemic-related downtime was spent revamping the company website, making it easier to book online reservations, which is in turn is making it easier for his staff to reduce contact with guests.
Families can kayak and SUP together. It’s easy to social distance once you’re on the water
“We also are limiting our equipment right now. Typically, we run 25 paddleboards an hour, now we are doing ten to keep the foot traffic down. Our availability is kind of limited now so you have to make a reservation. Everything can be done online so there is very little interaction at check-in.”
Norman says everything is cleaned between users, masks are work inside the shop, and everyone is being respectful of the changes. “Everyone is just friendly and happy to get out on the water again.”
“The paddlesports boom will continue as the school year ends and summer begins,” predicts Lisa Arrasmith, an avid paddler and member of the Chesapeake Paddling Association. “Families can kayak and SUP together. It’s easy to social distance once you’re on the water. The Chesapeake Bay has hundreds of public launch sites and thousands of miles of shoreline. It’s easy to start paddling here.”
Arrasmith got her start by renting kayaks and taking day trips on vacation. “In 2003 I joined the Canton Kayak Club, a now-regional nonprofit cooperative kayak club, in Baltimore. Kayaking was no longer just for special occasions. I paddled Baltimore Harbor three times a week in club kayaks for two years. I reveled in kayaking the harbor among the water taxis, sugar boats, garbage gulpers, barges, container ships, powerboats and sailboats, paddling by Fort McHenry and circumnavigating Fort Carroll.”
Paddlers are found all over the Bay, says Lauren Moses, public information officer for Maryland DNR’s Natural Resources Police. “They are out in the Bay fishing around the Bay Bridge, on the rivers and creeks. Most (kayakers) stay in the calmer waters, as do the paddleboarders. They normally stay out of the deeper channels but boaters should look out for them and be slow to pass and give wide berth.”
After buying her own sea kayak, Arrasmith joined the Chesapeake Paddlers Association for trips and training sessions. “Testing the water without buying is a good way to find out if you enjoy paddling without a big financial commitment or having to load a kayak or SUP on your car,” says Arrasmith. “Honestly, loading your boat or board on your car is the worst part of paddling.”
Clubs offer members the benefit of storing a boat and needed equipment at the launch site. Many area rental shops offer their own club memberships or season passes for those interested in making the sport a habit.
“We have a local community who come to paddles with us regularly and we offer memberships for the year plus buddy passes,” says Capital SUP’s Norman.
Andrea Melbourne has been renting and teaching paddleboarding at Chesapeake Paddle Sports at Paradise Marina in Deale since 2015. “Everyone was new to it then but now we have both newbies and more experienced paddlers coming out.”
“One of our more popular classes is the SUP 101, where you learn three paddling strokes, how to stand up and how to get back on when you fall in,” she said. Also popular is her Friday night Paddle Crush Tour, taking paddleboarders to stops at The Boathouse, Happy Harbor, Skipper’s Pier and Dockside restaurants on Rockhold Creek in southern Anne Arundel County. “We support our local outdoor dock bar venues, get to listen to live music and enjoy crushes,” Melbourne says.
Whether paddling for exercise, fishing or just to enjoy the Bay, safety is always a concern.
Everyone on the water needs to wear a life jacket at launch time. “Putting on your life jacket when you’re already in the water is like putting on your seat belt in the middle of a car wreck. It will not end well,” says Arrasmith.
It’s also important to keep an eye on the weather. “Knowing the weather is a big deal, especially in the summer,” says Norman. “Thunderstorms roll in quickly when we have high temps and humidity.”
Bring plenty of water and sunscreen with you, and tell someone where you are going to be. If you plan on being out after dark, bring a light. Sikorski says some fishing kayak makers sell kits to equip your boat with LED lights. You don’t want to be in the dark if you happen to go in the water. “There’s as much breathable air an inch under the water as there is on the dark side of the moon. You don’t have the margin of error on water that you do on dry land,” says Arrasmith.
Handled safely, paddling is a way to enjoy all that the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries have to offer.
WHERE TO LAUNCH: There are car-top soft launch sites all over and an abundance of Bay businesses ready to get you on the water. Find launches in Anne Arundel: https://www.aacounty.org/services-and-programs/cartop-boat-launch. In Calvert County: https://www.co.cal.md.us/1260/Water-Access