Within minutes of walking the floor at the 2019 Paddlesports Retailer tradeshow, I was struck by the evidence that fishing has established itself as a growth driver for this area of outdoor sports. In past years, the U.S. paddlesports market placed a greater focus on extreme athletes undertaking expeditions and activities that defined the edge of the sport and human performance. Those athletes have now been replaced by a new group: professional anglers.   

During the show, most if not all of the boat manufacturers had new products targeting fishermen. Innovations to draw non-fishing consumers to purchase were not emphasized.  

NPD data supports this transformation. Within the sporting goods channels we monitor through our Retail Tracking Service, 49% of recreational kayak dollar sales go towards those designed for fishing. In the last year alone, the fishing recreational kayak market has gained 5 share points.* 

While the standup paddleboard (SUP) category has seen a 20% sales decline in the past year, fishing enabled products again stand out. Though they represent only 3% of sales within the $37.5 million SUP category, fishing enabled SUP’s have grown 14% in the last year.*

This trend is not isolated in paddlesports. As I observe the overall outdoor retail landscape, fishing apparel and equipment are making their way into sporting goods and technical outdoor stores that once avoided the category.

If I had to offer up a “why,” I would argue that the outdoor consumer has changed.  The consumer that bought their first tents, boats, and outdoor equipment in the 70’s and 80’s were attracted to a desire to commune with nature, leave no trace, and found hunting and fishing to be antithetical to beliefs on sustainability and environmentalism. In fact, the era was dominated by people associating with a specific outdoor identity — “I am a whitewater kayaker” or “I am a backpacker.”

Present consumers are a bit more nuanced in their points of view. Ideas around utility and enjoying the outdoors through a variety of activities are common. Now I hear far more discussion around getting outdoors in a more general sense. It is through this prism that fishing has gained a strong foothold in paddlesports and within the broader outdoor space.


This popularity in fishing points to new growth opportunities for outdoor retailers and brands. Essentially, the takeaway is that strategy and product design focusing on utility and getting people outside in general ways is a viable path to growth. There will always be room in the market for sport-specific shops, but for the foreseeable future the industry should be telling the inclusive “get outside” story.

*Source: The NPD Group/ Retail Tracking Service/ 12 months ending June 2019