Surrounded by water, lakes area residents are increasingly finding ways to experience nature and reduce stress while seated inside a kayak.
“I go every chance I get,” said Allen Wynn. “The peace and quiet — it’s just very soothing.”
Wynn, manager at Easy Riders Bicycle and Sportshop in Brainerd, also sees the retail side of the business. Easy Riders, along with several area retailers, sells kayaks. The store also rents kayaks for destinations often in Brainerd at Rice Lake or the Mississippi or Crow Wing rivers. Wynn said kayak sales have been increasing in the last few years as people look for activities here instead of traveling.
“People are looking for more close-to-home things to do,” Wynn said.
Kayak clubs in the lakes area offer options to paddle with a group or just try out the sport in area lakes and rivers or the Cuyuna Range mine pits. Some have weekly outings from April through September.
Jeff Kidder, a certified kayak instructor with Kidder Kayaking, started one of the area clubs, Paddle Pushers, in 2000. Kidder also teaches kayak classes with Community Education and provides kayak demonstrations so people can experience the sport. The kayak club has grown from about seven people to about 60 with 200 people on its mailing list. There are social paddles and ones where people work on skills. Additional clubs are now in the area such as Paddle Folk, which started in 2005.
David Jeremiason, with Paddle Folk, said the group also grew from a handful to about 60 people with more than 80 on its mailing list. From 15 to 20 people on average attend the weekly paddle outings.
Jeremiason said for people who have never kayaked before, the club will provide a kayak for free for the first outing.
“Our club is geared a little more to beginners,” Jeremiason said. “Our goal in starting the club was just to introduce people to it and people who didn’t have their own boat but wanted to try it.”
Jeremiason said they love it when people call them interested in trying a kayak for the first time.
“It’s a social club as much as a paddle club. It’s a sport you can do and talk to people while doing it.”
Jeremiason, director at Presbyterian Clearwater Forest Camp, said they also sell kayaks at the end of the season. During the winter, Paddle Folk club members continue to get together for skiing and social outings.
Jeremiason said he sees part of the interest in kayaking coming from a growing health awareness as people look to be more active.
For enthusiasts, the kayaks offer an ability to explore the area independently or with a group, get exercise and do it all without spending a lot of money.
As a sport, Wynn said kayaking is an easy one for beginners. While people may envision short kayaks designed for whitewater rapids and rolls that take occupants underwater, kayaks are designed to be stable and because they are low to the water are actually more stable than canoes.
“It’s like going from driving a semi to a sports car,” Wynn said comparing a canoe to a kayak.
“Every year I see more and more people out kayaking,” said Jenny Smith, owner of Cycle Path & Paddle in Crosby, which sells and rents kayaks. “The interest keeps increasing every year.”
Smith’s rental kayaks are sold at the end of the season with a waiting list of interested buyers. Popular destinations are the mine pit lakes and a section of the Pine River south of Crosslake.
“I think it’s just so easy to do,” Smith said of kayaking and its growing popularity. “You don’t need a lot of specialized training. People can get in the first time and paddle.”
Smith said kayaks come in lighter weights so people have the independence of being able to load them by themselves if they like. Kayaks come in various hull designs and may include rudders for greater control, particularly through waves.
“It’s just very calming. You get into a kayak and you start paddling and it’s almost instant relaxation. It’s very calming and very peaceful. It’s so easy to do and it’s just very relaxing and it’s one of those things you can do by yourself or, if you like paddling with a group, you have that option.”
“I think typically the first time people go out they get the hang of it pretty fast. Every year I see a little more interest.”
In addition to the recreation side, Crow Wing Kayaks continue to be manufactured at Stern Industries in Riverton with three models. The locally made kayaks are sold through Ridgeline in Merrifield.
“When I first started teaching in the area I was the only one really driving around the area with a kayak on my roof,” Kidder said. Then a time came when he knew everyone he passed on the road with a kayak. “Now I’m seeing people all the time with the kayaks on their cars that I don’t know. I think it’s really grown a lot.”
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.