Standup Paddling is an Outdoor Shining Star

Standup Paddle Boarding
Standup paddle boarding popularity is growing by leaps and bounds. UTC offers SUP rentals to any student, faculty/staff, and alumni with an ARC membership. They also offer periodic SUP clinics. The Outdoor Rental Equipment Program is a service to the UTC community provided by SGA. Call 423.425.5750 for inquires regarding equipment rentals. (Photo: Contributed)

Pick any pretty weekend at Tennessee River recreation areas and it is likely you will see the water polka-dotted with spears of yellow, chartreuse, red and blue as standup paddle boarders ply the water. They will likely be alongside a school of kayakers.

Outdoor Chattanooga ( offers a variety of trips and learning programs for new and experienced paddlers. (Photo: Richard Simms)

In the last five years standup paddling, often known as SUP, has increased by 23.3 percent (6.6 percent in the last year). That’s according to the latest Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) topline report on sports, fitness and leisure activities.

Numerous Chattanooga area businesses have capitalized on that popularity by renting SUP’s for those who aren’t quite inclined to buy their own.

The report indicates that overall the recreational industry is seeing a significant amount of its growth coming from casual participants, not expansion of core participants.

Outdoor sports showed modest increases. Camping -the RV kind- grew by 7.9 percent. That was offset by a decline in “core” camping – the kind done more than 1/4 mile from your vehicle. It declined 4.6 percent.

Fly fishing lead the hunting/fishing category, with a 6.0 percent increase. Both fresh and saltwater fishing gained as well, showing increases of 1.2 and 2.4 percent, respectively.

Hunting (all categories) was flat, showing only a .2 percent increase-although that slight increase represents a continued growth over the past five years.

Both rifle and bow hunting categories dropped slightly, but shotgun hunting lost the most ground (2 percent), wiping out its gains over the past four years.

Sporting clays gained 2 percent- despite the fact that core participants (shooting more than 8 times a year) declined 8.8 percent in the SFIA survey.

Trap/skeet gained ground (up 5.3 percent) and target shooting (handgun) gained nearly 3 percent (2.9 percent).

The SFIA report seems to confirm that it’s “outreach” sports – the ones making efforts to reach youth with organized activities and opportunities- that are making the largest gains. That seems to hold true in their team sports categories as well.

Flatwater kayaks range in price from just a couple hundred dollars up to thousands, depending upon the size and features. (Photo: Richard Simms)

Again, on the water, standup paddling is a shining star. Kayaking is up as well.

With overall participation in water sports remaining largely the same, the gains seem to have come at the expense of two other formerly hot activities: rafting and jet skiing. Both lost significant participant numbers. (Rafters declined 11.7 percent, jet skiing lost 7.7 percent of its participants).

On the surface, the red-hot archery category seemed to slow, declining 5.7 percent over last year, but that’s not really the case. Over the past five years, overall participation is actually up an average of 4.3 percent.

It’s important to note that sports where with the largest gains include are a growing number of opportunities for young people to try them. Archery’s gains can be attributed to their growing youth competition programs (NASP and S3DA, among others), as can those of shooting sports (SCTP and SASP under the SSSF) and fishing (high school bass leagues).

The overall good news? As a whole the United States was more active in 2016.

The exceptions were adults in the 45-54 age category and households with incomes under $50K. Both those showed slight decreases in activity.

There’s no explanation offered for the decline in lower-income households, but the 45-54 age category is generally considered the one where the body’s inevitable slowdown means either a slowdown in participation in high-demand sports- or a shift to less-demanding activities.


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