A crush of beginner kayakers sets out across the water near Put-in-Bay. The Lake Erie islands, with many inlets and rock formations, are a popular kayaking location.
Racks of bright-colored kayaks at the big box stores, sporting goods retailers and specialty outlets are a testament to the boom the sport has experienced in recent years.
Recreational kayaking grew by 27 percent in 2012, and is up 32 percent over the past three years, according to statistics compiled by The Outdoor Foundation.
The missionaries of kayaking in the area say that the kayaking conversion rate is very high.
“It gives people the opportunity to get out on the water and just explore,” said Vicky Wigle, who operates a kayak rental business at Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island. “Most people find out pretty quickly that kayaking is relatively simple to do, and it can take you a lot of places you can’t see from shore, or reach with bigger boats.”
Kayaks can slip in close to the unusual rock formations and the limestone cliffs around the islands. More than 100 kayakers from three states and Ontario attended the South Bass Island Kayak Rendezvous in June, including Eric Slough of the Toledo River Gang, a kayaking club.
“With just a simple, inexpensive boat, some safety gear, and a forward stroke on the paddle, you are on your way,” Mr. Slough said. “I think a lot of people have caught on to the fact that kayaking is fun, you are outside, and there is always a sense of adventure involved. I’m not surprised the numbers are way up.”
Bob Pulhuj of the Northwest Ohio River Runners club likes the instant return on investment that he sees kayaking provide.
“After we take somebody out for their first kayaking experience and you see them coming back up from the water, they’re usually wearing a million dollar smile,” he said. “It never fails – they are so pleased and so happy.”
Mr. Pulhuj said he knows kayakers from ages 12 to 85, and most of them mention a common attraction that the sport offers them.
“I hear from people all of the time about how relaxing it is to be out there surrounded by nothing but water,” he said. “It’s quiet, you get away from the stress, and leave it all at the shore.”
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources reports that hand-powered craft – kayaks and canoes – make up the fastest growing segment of the boating market in Ohio.
“We see mostly beginners,” said Ms. Wigle, whose “Kayak the Bay” operation started with 10 boats in 2000 and now boasts a fleet of 35. ”And although they are pretty nervous at the start, once they get out on the water they figure it out pretty fast. A lot of people get hooked on it.”
“Registrations for the paddle sports have increased dramatically recently,” said Eric Reed of the Division of Watercraft. “Since so many people are getting involved in kayaking, we strongly urge them to always wear a life jacket, and to know their skill level and then match their skill level to the conditions.”
The basic recreational kayak can be purchased for as little as $200, and equipped with the proper safety gear for less than $100 more. Once a certain level of expertise is reached, the options increase exponentially.