Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddle Boarding Making Big Splash Locally

Gateway Newspapers
4 July 2012
By Mary Ann Thomas

A surfer dude on the Allegheny River? You betcha.

Harrison resident Ian Smith started his SurfSUP Adventures outfitting business last year. He offers stand-up paddle boarding on what looks like an oversize surfboard on the Allegheny River and other waterways.

"Right now, it's something new for people to try," said the 26-year-old Smith, who has a finance degree from Penn State.

"As opposed to kayaking, you get a surfer feel. It really connects you with the water.

You can take the boards down rapids or paddle flat bodies of water -- the diversity is amazing," he said.

Stand-up paddle boarding is among the latest trends in water paddling that is surfacing on local waterways. Interest in kayaking and other types of water recreation continues to grow.

"During Memorial Day weekend, you could not drive through Leechburg, Vandergrift, Avonmore and Apollo without seeing a kayak or a canoe on someone's car roof or truck," said Neill Andritz, owner of River's Edge Canoe and Kayak rental in Gilpin.

The 100 parking spaces at the Roaring Run Trail in Kiski Township fill up on the weekend with a number of vehicles carrying kayaks, while the River's Edge reports a 20 percent increase in kayak rentals from last year.

"When I canoed this river 25 years ago, people thought I was crazy," said Rich Dixon, mayor of Apollo and vice president of Roaring Run Watershed Association.

Now, with a $42,000 kayak and canoe launch installed last year, the Kiski River is attracting not only outfitters such as the River's Edge but area residents and Pittsburghers, who bring their own kayaks.

Heck, they're bringing their own kayak parties, according to Dixon.

Water sports up -- way up

From 2010 to 2011, recreational kayaking saw the largest increase compared to a number of outdoor activities at 27 percent, according to the Outdoor Recreation Participation Topline Report 2012 by the nonprofit Outdoor Foundation in Boulder, Colo.

During that same time period, kayaking was followed by bow hunting (up 19 percent), Stand-Up Paddling (18 percent), telemarking skiing (15 percent) and trail running (9 percent).

"I think it will continue to trend upward," Andritz said. "Kayaking is an easy sport to learn, and it can be relaxing and peaceful."

But it can also provide an adreniline jolt on white water.

Local outfitters in the Alle-Kiski Valley cater mainly to flat-water lovers and light rapids -- whether it's in a kayak, canoe, rowboat or a stand-up paddle board.

"The desire to go out on the water is increasing, and ever year we are providing more services to more people," said Jon Lucadamo, projects director for Venture Outdoors, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that offers kayak and other water adventures on Pittsburgh's North Shore, North Park lake, and recently, the riverfront park in Millvale.

Last year, Venture Outdoors provided kayak rental services to about 14,000 patrons at its North Shore location.

Lucadamo credits the growing popularity of kayaking to several factors: Kayaking generally is a safe way to travel on the water, kayaks are user- and beginner-friendly, and it offers high visibility as an increasing number of people are spending time on the water.

And local people are responding.

"The presence of L.L. Bean and two REI stores in the region is a real indicator of outdoor recreation health in the region and citizens' desire to participate," he said.

Trying to tap tourism -- and money

While kayaking and water recreation are trending upward, Apollo Mayor Rich Dixon is trying to figure out a way to tap it to bring in some of those recreation dollars to his town.

Already, the Roaring Run Trail that starts in Apollo and meanders along the Kiski River in Kiski Township attracts much more than the group's estimated 25,000 annual visitors, according to Dixon.

And more could come.

"You can come to Apollo if you don't want to drive all the way to the mountains," he said. "We have the trail and water."

The group is planning a hiking/biking trailhead with another parking lot at the Apollo-North Apollo border.

Dixon would like to see another kayak launch in town.

"I would like to work on a launch so people could get out of their kayaks and frequent the restaurants and stores," he said.

"We want to tap into this resource to benefit the local businesses and to draw people to Apollo with: "We have a trail and the river," Dixon said.

Taking the idea further, Dixon said that Apollo "is an ideal location for someone who is retiring and wants to remain active."

Gateway Newspapers Staff reporter Mary Ann Thomas can be reached via e-mail or at 412-782-2121 x1510.