Demand for out of doors sports activities gear waning after pandemic growth

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After an abrupt surge in demand for outdoor recreation gear during the COVID-19 pandemic, sporting goods stores in Ottawa and Outaouais say business is gradually returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Companies selling gear like bikes, kayaks, canoes, golf clubs and even home fitness equipment like free weights and weight plates saw unprecedented demand in the early stages of the pandemic.

This demand, combined with supply chain issues, resulted in many items being out of stock for months.

“It got very busy very quickly,” said Bill Burton, who works at Ottawa Valley Canoe & Kayak. “Demand has exploded.”

Ottawa Valley Canoe & Kayak’s Bill Burton says demand “skyrocketed” early in the pandemic as families struggled to find activities amid lockdowns. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

With travel complicated and often arduous during the pandemic, and summer camps and other activities for children and teens in perpetual limbo, families awash with unspent vacation money turned to the great outdoors, Burton said.

Demand falls as restrictions are lifted

This year, however, the spending spree for outdoor sporting goods is abating.

“It’s like the gold rush,” he explained. “The gold rush was great, but it’s calmed down.”

Vicki Schouten worried about the future of her company at the start of the pandemic but instead found herself “sold out of almost everything”. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Vicky Schouten, owner of Expéditions Wakefield, nestled on the banks of the Gatineau River, has had a similar experience with her business.

She initially feared she might be struggling to stay afloat as businesses were ordered to close to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Instead, she saw an unexpected surge in business.

“We were no longer very nervous about the future but trying to meet people’s expectations,” she said. “The first summer [of the pandemic] we’ve basically sold out almost everything.”

Supply bottlenecks persist

Schouten added that while demand for paddleboard, canoe and kayak rentals remains strong, sales of these items are gradually slowing down.

“A year ago you couldn’t buy a canoe, kayak or paddle board,” she said. “Now some are available.”

Bikes and bike parts are a different story, and Schouten said she expects the shortages to continue for at least another year.

It’s the same situation down south in Chelsea, Que.

Tim van Dyke, director of alpine ski racing at Kunstadt Sports, said demand had “gone through the roof” at the local chain’s Chelsea site as the early pandemic lockdowns left people few leisure options aside from exploring the great outdoors .

Now things “have reached a plateau,” van Dyke said.

Kunstadt Sports’ Tim van Dyke says ongoing supply issues are leaving his company “at the mercy of the global supply chain”. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

He points out that bad weather in the region at the start of summer helped. There were few good days for cycling, the region’s most popular activity during the summer months.

Difficulties in taking stock have forced van Dyke to plan much further ahead than before.

“We expect two years to secure these stocks,” he said. “[It’s] a huge challenge.”

To compensate for the supply shortage, the Chelsea site has increased its focus on bicycle maintenance, according to van Dyke.

Technician Austin Upper works on a bike at Kunstadt Sports in Chelsea, Que. The business has increased its focus on service and repairs as the supply of new bikes has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Interest in group activities recovers

While demand for new equipment may have waned, interest in exploring the great outdoors persists and the desire for group activities is increasing.

Ottawa Outdoor Club president Rob Burnfield says memberships are returning to pre-pandemic numbers as people feel comfortable participating in group activities again. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

The Ottawa Outdoor Club organizes a variety of activities for its members, including canoeing, bicycling, ice skating on the Rideau Canal and even city walks.

Rob Burnfield, the club’s president, said he expects about 200 members in an average year. That number dropped to about 100 during the pandemic, he added, but is now recovering.

“Our numbers are definitely up again,” he said. “We have young people, old people…. People really seem to be enjoying it.”