It was the unexpected surfski symptom of COVID-19.

While racing ground to a halt during Australia’s lockdown, its recreational pursuit soared to new heights.

Importers of all the major manufacturers received an unprecedented level of interest.

“Not only buying craft and renting craft, but also wanting to get out there and have a lesson,” Oceanpaddler’s Dean Gardiner says, Australia’s Fenn distributor.

“It’s still going on now.”

Sales numbers would have been even higher if not for the logistical hurdle of getting new boats into the country.

With restrictions in force around the globe, having containers shipped into the country suddenly became a whole lot harder.

But that headache only saw demand surge.

“We managed to get two containers in as restrictions started and they were all sold before they even got to Sydney,” Epic Kayaks Australia’s Davey Brand explains.

“Our next three containers are fully sold out as well, and they haven’t even arrived yet.

“It’s madness.”

Think and Stellar Kayaks also recorded a surge in interest, as the Australian market found itself in a unique position.

“It was sort of the perfect storm in a sense,” Brand explains.

“You have all of these people working from home who now have time to paddle during the day, where normally they wouldn’t because it’s cold and dark in the mornings before work.

“It’s like, ‘hey guys, we’ve got lots of spare time, the gyms are closed, let’s go and do the perfect social-distancing sport.”

Booth Training

Gardiner also attributes the surge to the self-reflection that many people undertook as they re-evaluated all facets of life during isolation.

“I think people were just given the opportunity to look at alternatives in their normal lifestyle,” he says.

“Most people are so tuned into what they’ve been doing for the last five or 10 years, they don’t realise that there is other stuff out there.

“And when you’re forced to realise that, it kind of opens your eyes a fair bit.

It’s a trend that stretched to all parts of the country.

Horizon Line Canoes is one of Australia’s few specialist kayak stores and is based in Emu Plains near Penrith – more than an hour’s drive from the coast.

The business’ main sales derive from plastic and sit-on-top kayaks, but it also stocks Stellar skis and has been “going crazy” during lockdown.

In just six weeks, Horizon Line Canoes has doubled its yearly sales of surfskis.

“We literally had people walking in to test a boat and then saying, ‘yep, I’m buying this,” Jason Han says.

“We’re finding a lot of people are shying away from kayaks because they’re claustrophobic and afraid of falling out and not being able to get back in.

“Surfskis are easy to remount, which is why you still see a lot of 60 and 70 year olds in racing – because they can.

“Someone of that age wanting to get back into a kayak, if they get swamped or fall in, they can’t.”

Great Minds Like A Think

The interest that the Australian market experienced was focused on the introductory or beginner’s end of the spectrum.

For Oceanpaddler’s Dean Gardiner, inquiries in that area were “10 fold plus” on the usual standard, as people continue to discover paddling and all of the qualities that make it such a great lifestyle option.

“You can treat it as a sport or you can treat it as a recreation,” Gardiner explains. “It has that ability.”

“If you’re an AFL player, you just can’t say, ‘i’m going to go down and have an AFL recreation right now,’ you sort of have to play the game.

“If you’re a triple-jumper, you have to triple-jump.

“But if you want to go for a paddle, you can just go for a paddle. 

“You can go hard, or you can go easy. 

“I actually treat it as a sport and as a recreation – sometimes I’ll do a hard session, and sometimes I’ll just go for a float.

“And I think that’s been the thing people have realised over the last three or four months.”