Canoecopia A bountiful start to the paddling season

The ice is only just off the lakes in Madison Wisconsin. But paddlers of canoes and kayaks are eager to get out on the water. Every year usually on the first warm weekend in March thousands from throughout the Midwest gather to celebrate the bounty of the spring paddling season. The local gear shop called Rutabaga hosts the largest paddle sports expo in North America, an event so big it can only be called Canoecopia.

Owner Darren Bush welcomes outdoor enthusiasts to Madison’s Alliant Energy Center for a full weekend of adventure slideshow presentations, wilderness skill seminars and an unparalleled display of the latest camping and paddling equipment. After an unseasonably warm winter Bush said his customers are pretty excite to get outside. And at Canoecopia they seem to have more than enough money to spend.

“There are lots of open to buy recreational dollars out there for people who didn’t buy skis this year,” Bush said. “That’s sad for skiers but it’s really good for us.”


Despite a brown Christmas with too little snow and flagging ski sales nation wide outdoor retailers just might look forward to a bright and shinny spring. All that pent up purchasing power could be a true indication of the recovering economy.

“Yeah it’s a bellwether for sure,” Bush said. “People are interested and buying now. I’m seeing a lot of higher-end boats go out, a lot of Kevlar.”

Expensive watercraft made of pricey lightweight materials are making their way to the registers. And Bush said his customers are buying new boats with a confidence that meets their demand.

“I walked in yesterday, the first women came in the door and said “I want to buy two canoes. What should I get?” Twenty minutes later she had two canoes.

A high-end Kevlar boat can range in price from $1,500 to $5,000 or even higher. But Mike Cichanowski owner of Wenonah Canoe & Kayak in Minnesota said business is brisk and his dealers are buying

“You know we have our winter production set and we’re shipping a lot of boats and you know all the dealers that I see here, and I have a lot of dealers stop buy and say hi just as they’re passing through and almost everyone of them has said that they think that spring is starting to show now,” Cichanowski said. “And they’re getting a few more sales than normal and think it’s going to be a particularly good spring this year.”

The turn out for Canoecopia could be an indication of purchasing trends nationwide. It seems that many consumers like Dann Hekman have been saving up their money for a new boat this year and now they’re ready to buy.

“Cash is cheap so I could either have my money sitting in a savings account or something like that making no interest,” Hekman said. “Or I can spend it while the opportunity costs are low.

Consumers outdoor products are putting their extra cash into purchases that make them happy and supports their active lifestyle. Just ask this economics major and he’ll tell you that a new kayak is money well spent.

“Well it’s not going to have a great return on investment if that’s what you’re asking in terms of like financial benefit,” Hekman said. “I mean I love kayaking. It gives me a lot of tangible utility and benefits. So in that regard I think so. In terms of just mental sanity and dealing with stress at work and stuff, it’s great.”

And first-time boat buyer Alexandra Larsen said she’s making an investment in her long-term recreational happiness.

“It’s something that I think will do really well for me in the long run. You know it is a big purchase but I’m hoping to have this boat for many, many years,” Larsen said. “So I may as well get something that I’m going to be happy in for a long time. So that’s kind of my feeling. It’ll pay me back over the years, I hope.”


The Joy Trip Project is made possible with the support of sponsor Patagonia

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I’m a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.