Kayaks in short supply as pandemic-era boom continues
A spike in outdoor activity triggered by a pandemic appears to be lingering this summer as kayaks run out of stock in many places and outdoor stores experience a continued boom in sales and rentals.
In Wausau, Divepoint Scuba, which for nearly a decade has rented kayaks from its location on the Wisconsin River, is closed for the season, with a sign displayed in the window stating that the makers “HAVE NO KAYAKS available at SELL or RENT “.
The story behind the shutdown turns out to be a bit more complicated.
Divepoint owner Bob Butt, who still operates the store’s main location in Stevens Point, said he was hesitant to restock the Wausau store’s equipment in late 2020 as the location is for sale.
“Last fall we sold all of our rentals because we had people screaming for it,” Butt said. “I was selling her at higher prices for a used boat. The new things were going at full price, no questions asked.”
But once they sold that inventory, restocking wasn’t easy, Butt said. The lead times for restocking new kayaks in stock are several months, and in some cases over a year. When he places orders for any type of equipment now, he says, he asks sales reps what they have in their warehouse and what is available to ship that day. He has learned not to rely on estimated shipping times from overseas suppliers.
The shortage of kayaks is the latest sign of how the coronavirus pandemic has both boosted demand for outdoor equipment and disrupted traditional supply chains. And even as indoor activities reopen this summer in Wisconsin and across the country, vendors say demand for outdoor gear appears stronger than ever.
The pandemic has resulted in a boom in outdoor activities in 2020, which could be done without the high risk of transmitting COVID-19. State parks have seen a huge increase in attendance. The bikes were out of stock most of the year. Sale of canoes, kayaks and camping equipment climbed compared to 2019.
As demand increased, the international supply chain for many products was degraded. Asian manufacturers have been shut down. In some cases, the raw materials used to make goods have become scarce. Declining supply and rising demand have made paddling gear and other outdoor items among the most difficult to find consumer goods of the pandemic era.
But even as more people take traditional vacations this summer and return to pre-pandemic activities, the newfound interest in the outdoors has not waned.
“If I had to order kayaks I would be a little worried,” said Jack Beshoar of Apostle Islands Kayak. The Bayfield-based rental company has enough inventory to meet customer needs. Beshoar said they are seeing a record number of tours early in the season and are gearing up for a big season in their busiest period, which typically begins July 1.
Like Apostle Islands Kayak, Kim Kinsey of the Wisconsin Rapids stand-up paddleboard rental company SUP the Rapids said she has the inventory in place to meet the needs of her rental customers. And Kinsey said it helps that their supplier is a California-based company.
“The boards I get are a bit more expensive and durable,” Kinsey said. “They’re not from China. They’re not garbage that can be bought from Menards, Walmart, or Fleet Farm.”
Butt said he and other store owners refer to the cheaper, more disposable – and now heavily out of stock – crafts as KSOs, or “kayak-shaped items.”
What is clear is that there is still a great demand for just about anything in the shape of a kayak. Around the Madison area, someone posted handwritten signs saying “I BUY KAYAKS” with a phone number. WPR left repeated messages at the number on the panel; the person buying kayaks in Madison did not answer calls to find out if she was successful in using the tactic.
Wednesday, Rutabaga Paddlesports, Monona’s popular shop, posted on facebook rare news of a new cargo of kayaks.
“It’s good to see the boat carriers full again,” they wrote, “but they sure won’t last long!”