The Single Life | Canoeroots Magazine | Rapid Media
The Single Life Photo: Larry Rice

staying counter-culture in a kayak-crazed world

Canoeists have undoubtedly noticed the following trend—we’re outnumbered.

When Nantahala Outdoor Center, North America’s largest instructional canoe and kayak school, opened 42 years ago, canoeing courses significantly outnumbered kayaking. Twenty years ago that ratio began to change. “Since then, only about 30 percent of instruction courses taken at NOC are geared toward canoeing, the rest are kayaking,” says Charles Conner, NOC’s marketing director.

During this paradigm shift, I’ve heard veteran canoe instructors given this warning: Learn how to kayak and teach kayaking, or find yourself without a job. 

“It’s counter-culture to be an open boater these days,” says Conner. “If you’re a canoeist, you’re part of a proud but active minority.” 

For proof, just look around. Back in the early days, the number of canoes and kayaks on showroom floors was about equal. Now, in NOC’s busy store, kayaks outsell canoes nine to one. According to Darren Bush, owner of Rutabaga and host of Canoecopia, the world’s largest paddlesports consumer event, “Kayaks—including touring, recreational and whitewater—outsell canoes three to one in the Midwest, which is still considered canoe country.”

With the loss of Royalex from the paddlesports market, I found myself considering the future of canoeing—can we dam the flood of butt boating or are we destined to join them?

With Red Bull-sponsored waterfall drops, a certain dirtbag mystique and adrenaline-infused sex appeal, I understand why youth flock to kayaking. 

I don’t let that dampen my ardor for the single blade life though. It’s not just that canoes offer a better view, carry more gear and are far easier to trek across land—canoes have a legacy.

I’m proud to paddle down the river in an old-fashioned canoe, just as the indigenous peoples, Voyageurs, explorers, trappers, traders, missionaries and more modern wilderness adventurers of North America have done before me. 

Canoeing isn’t dead. It’s just taking a well-deserved breather after being the watercraft of choice for thousands of years.

Larry Rice resides in Buena Vista, Colorado. He owns more than a dozen canoes and one lonely kayak.

Larry Rice's wild rice article was originally published in the 2014 Summer/Fall issue of CanoerootsThis article first appeared in the Summer/Fall 2014 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Canoeroots's print and digital editions here.

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