Suddenly and somewhat surprisingly, kayaking on the Hay River appears to have become a popular thing to do this summer.
In fact, a Town of Hay River recreation program had to be revamped because of a large increase in participation compared to last summer.
Dale Loutit, the town’s recreation programmer, explained she began the summer by again offering what she called a Social Paddle.
In essence, she would host a paddle down the river at the same time each week.
She offered rented kayaks from Canoe North or participants could bring their own, and she would drive them back upriver to the starting point.
“I had to change it because I had 17 people showing up,” said Loutit.
The change was necessary for safety reasons because there is supposed to be only five kayakers for each guide, and there is only one guide in Hay River.
“If anything happened to one of the boaters, then that guide could help them out of the water,” said Loutit. “They’re trained to get you out of the water safely while they’re still in the kayak.”
She said last summer only she and certified kayaking day guide Craig Edwards, along with sometimes one or two others, would show up for the Social Paddle.
“Last year, we never had an issue with going over our guiding ratio of five to one so we never really put any caps on it,” said Edwards. “And when we started up this year we had like 30 registrations on the first day.”
Because of this summer’s large numbers, Loutit changed the activity to the Evening Kayak Tour in mid-July, and limited it to five kayakers who have to register in advance for the Tuesday evening paddles from Bob McMeekin Memorial Chamber Park to the Hay River Beach.
Loutit noted the Evening Kayak Tour has been packed, and there is even a waiting list.
As for why kayaking has become so popular in Hay River compared to last year, she said, “I couldn’t tell you.”
Edwards said he can’t give a definitive answer either to explain the sudden increase in participation in the kayaking program.
However, he noted the North may be catching up to a kayaking boom that has been underway for years in the south.
“The kayak industry has been booming for about 10 to 15 years and I think that boom is really beginning to hit up here a little bit more,” he said.
There will be two more Evening Kayak Tours until the activity ends for the summer on Aug. 22.
Loutit hopes that more people, including herself, can become trained as certified day guides so next year’s paddling on the river can be open to more people.
She and Edwards are currently in contact with a kayaking tour guide training company in the South about possibly offering a course in Hay River.
“So we’re looking at doing it early in the summer next year so that we would have enough guides to accommodate the interest that we have and do it safely,” said Edwards.