For many paddlers, the season kicks off every year with Canoecopia, the annual event organized at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, WI by Rutabaga, one of the largest single paddlesports storefronts in the country. This year, the event was stronger than ever, breaking the previous sales record set in 2007. Driving into the event on Saturday morning, crowds were so thick that traffic was backed up on the freeway exit for the Alliant Energy Center.


Darren Bush, owner of Rutabaga said, Sales and attendance were both up double digits. Attendance reached about 24,000 and there were points where the fire marshal shut it down and said you cant let any more people in until some leave.


Brad Werntz from the rep agency Pemba Serves, was there manning the Sea to Summit booth. I thought Canoecopia had huge energy this year. Traffic was incredible… we had to take personal time-out a few times because we were overwhelmed by the people at our booth. There was a noticeable increase in traffic from last year and there was far less hand ringing, Werntz said. Last year people were doing quite a bit of pencil work (to estimate spending.) This year it was not carte blanche, but people were more open. We brought a broader selection of product this year and all price points sold well.


While the success at Canoecopia can be touted as a strong bellwether for the industry this year, paddlesports retailers and vendors are still cautiously optimistic. Lili Colby, the VP of sales for MTI sees the strong results for Canoecopia as a great start to the season, but she is still waiting to see how some other consumer events perform. Im almost scared of how positive it was. It was unbelievable! Colby said. We sold out of complete styles. There was purchasing going on throughout the product line, very broad. I always feel Canoecopia is sort of the starting gun for the season. The next show is Jersey Paddler. If we get a strong Jersey Paddler, then Kittery Trading Post, if we see three strong shows, we know it will be a good season.


At the same time, other paddle retailers are seeing a strong start to their season, too. John Nemjo, owner of Mountain Outdoor Supply Co. in Old Forge, NY, attended show for first time. Nemjo told BOSS that his shop has had record sales every month for the last five months and enjoyed its biggest fourth quarter ever. However he is still recovering from a very tough summer last year due to extensive summer rains in the northeast that left him with a lot of unsold boats.


Chris Haggert, the co-owner Austin Canoe & Kayak in Austin, TX, another one of the largest single paddlesports storefronts in the country, was attending Canoecopia to see if he could host a similar show in his market. The aisles were packed with people. I spoke with several boat manufacturers and everyone was just thrilled with the success they were having, said Haggert.


According to Bush, sales of high end boats and accessories-like Kevlar canoes, composite kayaks or carbon fiber paddles-were up significantly. He also felt that consumers are looking for quality purchases and are taking a longer–term view in their decision to purchase a canoe or kayak. Bush also saw customers using credit more than ever.


The fact that higher price-point boats and accessories are showing some growth again is considered by many to be a sign that the industry is rebounding as consumers look to satisfy some pent-up demand.


Canoecopia has clearly signaled a strong start to the paddling season, the only question is whether the pace is sustainable nationwide for the remainder of the season.