A boatload of articles, posts, and photos in our social media feeds prompted many of us to find ways to step away from our screens and get outdoors over the past year, and exploring Connecticut from the bow of a kayak has become one of the most popular.
Connecticut has 618 miles of coastline; 5,828 miles of rivers; and more than 3,000 lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. What it hasn’t had recently are enough kayaks to get everyone who wants to get on-board on the water.
Roof racks make kayaking a moveable hobby, and made it particularly attractive the past year as a safe and fun solution to being together while keeping a safe distance.
“I think it’s a combination of being a perfect thing to do and being able to socially distance. People also had a greater appreciation for the outdoors after being cooped up in their houses and realizing any outdoor activity was a safe thing to do,” says Sue Warner, the owner of Collinsville Canoe and Kayak for the past 31 years.
High demand meant a slow supply of kayaks, leaving outfitters scrambling to help new enthusiasts.
“We were able to get a decent inventory but not nearly as much as we would have liked,” Warner says, adding that she remained busy even through the off-season months.
“We had a tremendous interest all through the winter. All the people who couldn’t get a boat during last season decided to get them for themselves early. We’ve had two groups from Michigan, one from Indiana. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and all parts of New England. We’ve had people drive 35 hours round trip to get a boat from us,” Warner says.
Warner only sells at the store or delivers, and warns about having a kayak shipped. They’re just too easy to damage along the way: “We’ve even seen kayaks that have had forklifts go right through them.”
Joining the Boating Bunch
Unlike many outdoor sports, recreational kayaking has a very small learning curve as it doesn’t require hours of lessons and practice to enjoy. And finding out if you like it is easy and relatively inexpensive, with rental prices starting as low as $15 an hour along the coastline — from Stamford to Mystic — and inland at places like Scoot and Paddle on Lake Housatonic in Derby, or The Happiest Paddler on Lake Pocotopaug in East Hampton. And there are new places taking advantage of the sport’s rise in popularity.
Glastonbury has a new business this season, begun by Bernice Mariqueo and her father Ricardo. AquaventuresCT is at South Glastonbury Seaboard Marina and rents kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and paddle boats on the Connecticut River.
Mariqueo, who grew-up kayaking in Connecticut, says, “It’s a fun outdoor activity that really brings families together.”
“We have a lot of reservations from big groups getting together with friends families and kids.” And a lot of gal pals.
With beginners, she says, “We give them a lesson how to paddle. No one has too much trouble learning for the first time.” Part of the attraction, she says, is that “anyone can learn how to do it; it’s something we can just do instead of go learn.”
Chris Burke, who sells and rents kayaks at Indian River Marine and Kayak in Clinton, thinks renting is one of the best ways for anyone to get their feet wet.
“It’s a wonderful way to get on the water,” Burke says, and those who take to the sport can spend as little as a few hundred dollars buying a used kayak. He sells mostly new kayaks ranging in prices of about $450 to over $3,000.
“There’s no maintenance to kayaks, you don’t need a boat slip, you don’t need engines, you don’t need mechanics, you don’t need a lot of the things that are a hindrance to the average person to get on the water,” Burke says.
Although Burke sells inflatable paddleboards, he has a warning about inflatable kayaks, which are not as rigid as paddlers might prefer on open water such as Long Island Sound. Users of inflatables, he says with a laugh, “get three workouts: one when you bring and inflate it, one when you paddle, and another when you try to get the air out of it.”
Burke’s partner, Sarah Thompson, has some advice as well — size is important, and linked to where you intend to kayak. “If you’re on the ocean you want at least a 12-footer. If you’re sticking to ponds or lakes a 10-footer is fine,” she says.
Kayaks have been around for well over 4,000 years. The New World Encyclopedia says they were developed by indigenous people primarily to hunt the rivers, lakes, and coastline of the Arctic. They were made from animal skins stretched over frames usually made from whalebone (no trees in the Arctic).
Contemporary kayaks haven’t strayed much from the original designs, although they are no longer made from animal skins. Fabric kayaks on wooden frames dominated the market up until the 1950s, when fiberglass boats were introduced. In 1973, rotomolded plastic kayaks first appeared. These boats, which are smaller, stronger, more resilient, and less expensive than those made of other materials, helped make kayaking the accessible and popular activity it is today.
Getting Your Feet Wet
For those just starting-out, some of the best ways to find new people and places for kayaking are meet-up groups online.
Sara Valleca of Roxbury loves the tranquility of kayaking and “being able to enjoy the outdoors and listen to the hum of all the nature that surrounds you.”
Looking to find fellow paddlers, she started the Southington Paddle Kayak Meetup Group this past April (you can find it on meetup.com). She organizes group paddles for kayakers and paddleboarders, a few times a month on weekend mornings and weekday evenings.
One of her recent attendees was Cassandra Eilers of West Hartford.
“I used to row crew so I was always on the water. I joined Meetup because I don’t have a favorite place to kayak, and this is nice because you can find other people and connect,” Eilers says. “I like the tranquility of kayaking alone, but I think the meetup group is great in terms of exploring new places. It’s nice to have a little bit of both.”
Lisa Dostie Fitch, who has been renting kayaks to boaters for a little over five years at Quinnipiac River Marina Kayak Rental in New Haven, favors kayaking on the Quinnipiac River. It’s a dynamic area, where the fresh water of the river meets the salt water of Long Island Sound, she says.
“It’s a perfect nursery for oyster beds,” she says, “And it’s an historic area because the Quinnipiac [Native Americans] used to summer there.” Kayakers can also beach their boats and walk the trails of the Fargeorge Nature Preserve, home to osprey, clapper rails, herons, greater yellowlegs, and spotted sandpiper hawks, turtles, and deer and many others.
“But you have to be aware of the currents and be aware of your surroundings,” says Dostie Fitch, who recommends kayaking about four hours after high tide, particularly for beginners, to take advantage of the calmer water.
“You get to experience a different viewpoint of New Haven,” she says. “I believe it’s the best part of New Haven.”