Paddling is a safe sport for social distancing (if you follow regulations) and just the kick we all need this summer. To that end, we present the numbers when it comes to getting out on the water.

As far as we’re concerned, there’s no better way to experience the wilderness than on a multi-day trip in a boat with a cooler packed full of gourmet eats and fizzy drinks. We’re not alone: In 2018, 22.9 million Americans took to the plentiful rivers, creeks, streams, lakes, and oceans of our country to canoe, kayak, raft, stand-up paddle board and, we’re certain, packraft, although those lucky souls aren’t listed in Outdoor Industry Association’s 2019 Special Report on Paddlesports & Safety. We’re guessing it’s probably because they’re too busy hiking to one of the most remote headwaters in Alaska, getting ready to inflate their crafts and explore uncharted waters. 

1.5 Million   
The increase in SUP participants since 2013, due to the increase in inflatable boards, which are infinitely easier to transport than hard-material ones. On a SUP like NRS’s Beast (big enough to handle 8-10 paddlers, according to the company), you can kneel in a Class III rapid, use a borrowed kayak paddle to run it, and then stand back up once you’re through—or stand the whole way: up to you. 

53 Percent
Ratio of male paddlers in 2018. Male participation, however, is declining at about one percent per year, and female participation is increasing by the same amount. 

8,000 Miles of streams and rivers running through the state of Colorado, earning it the nickname  “the mother of rivers.” Another 2,000 lakes and reservoirs dot our home state. Much of that water flows into 17 other states and Mexico, explaining why we’re so cranky about our own water. 

Number of rivers in the Western U.S. that require a permit acquired only in a random lottery, including The Selway, The Rogue, The Smith, The San Juan, and The Rio Chama. Here’s the bad news: Your chances of getting one, on the lower end, are in the single digits, while on the higher end they’re still in the 8 to 12 percent range. The good news: Rivers—especially those in wilderness areas—are still the best way to see the wildest places with the least amount of people sticking their elbows in your face. 

1,450 Miles
Length of the Colorado River from its source north of Granby Colorado to its terminus between Baja, Mexico, and the Mexican mainland. While you can’t boat the entire thing from start to finish without portaging a great deal—including, sadly, 15 dams—you can get down most of it. The most famous section, of course, is the 277-mile stretch through the Grand Canyon. Which can be done blind—if you’re Erik Weihenmayer.

Number of Colorado rivers worth their acre-feet in boating, like the upper section of the Roaring Fork, near Aspen, which is known as “Slaughterhouse” and has one of Colorado’s few commercially rafted waterfalls. 

July 1940
Month and year the first successful whitewater rafting expedition launched—through the Snake River Canyon—in a homemade/WWI surplus rubber raft.  

The decade fiberglass kayaks were first introduced to the U.S., quickly replacing wooden or fabric versions. Kayaking gained acclaim in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, with men (only) in styrofoam helmets whipping through gates in the Notre Dame “rowing basin.” Today, 2.6 million people in the United States participate in some form of whitewater kayaking, with a 126 percent participation increase among children ages six to 12 since 2013.

Number of people who apply for a noncommercial lottery-based river permit on the Yampa River annually.

95 Million Acre-Feet
Amount of water Colorado generates, through rain and snowfall, annually.

Number of people who boat the Colorado through the Grand Canyon each year. 

Increase in Hispanic paddlers since 2013. 

6.1 Hours
The average amount of time paddlers take to pack for, prep for, and drive to a paddling destination—which is hilarious, because the length of an average paddling trip is just four hours. Participants are heading to lakes and rivers the most, followed by oceans, ponds, and streams. And the vast majority—77 percent—are content to take on day trips, while only 11 percent bite off multiday trips, and 9 percent do single overnighters. 

Number of kayak parks in Colorado—in Fort Collins, Glenwood, Denver, Buena Vista, and Golden. Not to be outdone, Ohio has three whitewater parks, two in Harrison and one in Springfield. 

Number of private permits issued on the Yampa River annually. 

January 31
The last day, annually, that you can put in for a permit to run the Yampa. Mark your calendar now. 

Cover photo: The Colorado River, photo by Doug Schnitzpahn

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