Some sports require specialized equipment and conditions, such as the ability to get to the mountains for skiing. Baseball requires a diamond field and multiple players, which presents a problem in a pandemic.
For Cape Codders, water sports remain easily accessible while allowing safe distancing from other people. Besides surfing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) are among the most popular activities.
“I think it’s cool to be able to be out in an environment where no one else is,” Sam English said of SUP. English lives outside Boston but travels to Truro throughout the summer months. The 27-year-old took up SUP about 10 years ago on the Cape when the sport began growing in popularity.
“It caught my attention,” he said. “I think it was more accessible than surfing. With surfing you have to take a lesson and there’s a period of time where you need instruction.”
SUP requires only a surfboard, a paddle, and access to the water. Paddle boarders balance on the board while paddling. Some do this simply as a leisure activity on a pond or the bay. Others ride the waves in the ocean or compete in races.
The Pamet Harbor Yacht Club in Truro, Provincetown Aquasports, and Art’s Dune Tours in Provincetown offer either rental kayaks or SUPs.
Kanen Moffett is in his eighth year running Provincetown Aquasports, which has grown into one of the biggest kayak and paddle board rental businesses on the Cape.
He said his fleet includes 60 single kayaks, 30 two-person kayaks, and 50 stand-up paddle boards. Many people who come to his business are trying SUP for the first time.
“To this day, a lot of people still haven’t tried it,” Moffett said. “This isn’t an advanced group of people that come to paddle. I would say at least 50 percent come here as first-timers.”
While rental paddle boards leave the customer on their own, some companies provide kayak tours. Provincetown Aquasports offers guided kayak tours through Herring Cove, while Art’s Dune Tours offer a tour through North Truro’s Pilgrim Lake.
Terry Gallagher is an avid kayaker who volunteers as a sweep for the Wellfleet Audubon Sanctuary during its guided tours, led by Joel Wagner. The sweep brings up the rear to make sure everyone stays with the group.
“The Outer Cape is a kayaker’s paradise, because there is such a variety of water to choose from,” Gallagher said.
He said the Audubon had to adjust to the pandemic in order to continue its kayak tours.
“The start of the season was delayed, and tours are now conducted under strict guidelines that include social distancing, wearing of masks, and extra cleaning of boats and equipment after each trip,” Gallagher said.
Getting people interested in rental kayaks or paddle boards this summer has not been much of a challenge for rental companies.
“More people are paddling than ever before,” Moffett said.
“We have done more rentals, dollar-wise, already this season than we did last season,” said Charlie Costa, who runs the Pamet Harbor Yacht Club. “Our sales are up 33 percent. We still have September and October to go, and we may be busier this September.”
The main challenge has been staffing.
“We use J-1 visa students, but none of those students were able to come this year,” Moffett said. “Staffing was the biggest issue of 2020.”
“Last summer we were open seven days from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” Costa said. “We always had someone there doing rentals. I’m the only employee this summer and I can’t be there all the time, so it’s more limited.”
Pamet Harbor Yacht Club rents far more kayaks than paddle boards, according to Costa. But Moffett said interest in paddle boarding has increased this season.
“It’s close to half of our business,” Moffett said of SUP.
Kayaking may seem more leisurely, but SUP can supply relaxing exercise, a different setting for yoga, or a competitive sport.
English said he originally took up SUP for fun but it became an athletic pursuit for him. He competed in the Cape Cod Bay Challenge a few years ago. The race is organized by Christopher’s Haven, a nonprofit based in Boston that helps provide housing for children and their families while being treated for cancer.
Participants raise money from sponsors by paddling across Cape Cod Bay from Plymouth to Wellfleet, English said.
This year, the Cape Cod Bay Challenge was held virtually. Participants completed a 15-mile or longer paddle route of their choice during the week of Aug. 1 to 8. Paddlers who participated were featured on the Cape Cod Bay Challenge Facebook page throughout the week.
English said SUP is rewarding because you can enjoy going places on the water where most people don’t go.
“You gain access to a whole area that other people won’t,” he said.