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Thinking of buying a kayak? Coronavirus demand makes them hard to find

COVID-19 has lead to a surge in demand for kayaks. Trouble is, there are almost none to be found in stores because of high demand and supply chain issues, both driven by the pandemic.

Maggie Lutz, front center, Izzy Carreon, back left, Maggie OÕDonnell, back right, Liam OÕDonnell, far back right, rent Kayaks at Marsh Creek, in Downingtown, PA, on Tuesday.
Maggie Lutz, front center, Izzy Carreon, back left, Maggie OÕDonnell, back right, Liam OÕDonnell, far back right, rent Kayaks at Marsh Creek, in Downingtown, PA, on Tuesday.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Haley Decker enjoys the outdoors and has been on the hunt for a kayak since March, but the 30-year-old from Hainesport, Burlington County, can’t find one.

“I’ve ... been looking on Facebook Marketplace and Nextdoor for reasonable used ones,” Decker said. “They all seem to sell really quickly. I’m actually on a wait list for the kayak of my choice right now.”

Thousands in the region can’t find a kayak to buy. Supply chain disruptions because of the coronavirus pandemic, along with increased demand, has caused a scarcity of the watercraft, along with other outdoor equipment, especially those manufactured in Asia.

“I think this is the year of the kayak,” said Brad Nelson, owner of Starrk Moon Kayaks, just off the Susquehanna River in Delta, York County. “No doubt about it. In 33 years of selling boats, I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Nelson said that factories in China that had been closed because of the coronavirus have reopened, but that they might need until next year to catch up with orders. He said paddles are also in short supply, as Werner Paddles, a large supplier based in Washington state, was affected by virus closures.

Nelson has kayaks for sale, but they tend to be specialized for touring and whitewater, and also more expensive. Most people just starting the sport are looking for mid-range kayaks for lakes and streams, he said, leaving out many first-time buyers.

He usually has 250 to 300 kayaks in stock. Now, he has 50.

“I got 27 kayaks in last Thursday,” he said. “And 25 were pre-sold with deposits. I have 40 coming in on the 19th. And all but about five have deposits.”

Steve Wanger, manager of Marsh Creek Watersports in Downingtown, also said the shortage is real.

“We were fortunate enough that we did get a shipment of kayaks in,” said Wanger. “I know a lot of people weren’t that fortunate.”

The business rents kayaks for use in Marsh Creek State Park, but also sells them. Wanger said all of Marsh Creek’s new kayaks are sold out, leaving only two used ones for sale as of Monday.

Wanger put in a bulk order for kayaks last October, months before the pandemic broke out. But after coronavirus restrictions took hold, more people than ever seemed to want to be outdoors just as the shipment arrived in May, leading to a demand that exceeded supply.

“We have had a lot of customers come in looking for new kayaks, especially in the last month,” Wanger said. “From the get-go, we were straight-up busy.”

Indeed, some kayak makers notified customers of supply chain disruptions as far back as May.

“With a pandemic general lockdown in place, cabin fever running rampant, spare time on people’s hands, and a record summer heat wave, many folks have been trying to get outdoors at any and every opportunity,” said Manny Ayala, with the Philadelphia Canoe Club, off Ridge Avenue. “Being out on the water, paddling, has turned out to be a great recreational and stress-relieving activity.”

But the club was forced to put its paddling programs and lessons on hold, he said, because of social distancing. That means many first-timer kayakers are on their own when it comes to learning correct technique and safety.

On social media, some people vented about used kayaks for sale on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist that are often quickly snapped up or too expensive because of the demand. Others have simply given up.

One man on a Facebook post said he bought a kayak online, then drove an hour to pick it up, only to find that the store had sold it. He got a refund and ordered one from another retailer.

The Dick’s Sporting Goods store at the busy Market Place at Garden State Park shopping complex in Cherry Hill is normally stocked with dozens of kayaks. It had none on Sunday and an employee said he did not know when more would arrive.

Pittsburgh-based Dick’s is the largest sporting goods retailer in the country. A spokesperson for the company said she could not comment on sales.

Decker, the Burlington County woman in search of a kayak, called her experience “frustrating” but understands that everyone is in the same boat: “It’s ... nice to see everyone wants to get outdoors more.”