There are a variety of ways to spend time on the Illinois River, and kayaking, canoeing and rafting are three of the most common.
River Town Outfitters in Park Hill has seen a surge in kayak sales and is even struggling to stay in stock this year. And the popularity continues to grow.
“It’s growing every day,” said River Town Outfitters owner Faron Davidson on Tuesday, May 12. “The demand is off the charts. It’s way more than supply can keep up with. We can’t even get any kayaks right now. I’ve pretty much sold everything I can come up with.”
Kayaks are more versatile than canoes, and fishing from kayaks has rapidly grown among enthusiasts.
“Kayaks have their advantages,” Davidson said. “If you’ve ever spent any time in a canoe, you’re at the mercy of whoever’s controlling it. In a kayak, it’s just you, and you go where you want. Kayak fishing has just blown up. It’s huge – not just here, but nationwide.”
Davidson recommends the sit-on-top kayaks with framed seating. He says there isn’t much of a learning curve when it comes to controlling one.
“Just find something that fits into your budget, and get out and see if you like it,” he said. “They’re fun. The most popular kayaks are sit-on-top kayaks, something with a frame seat. They’re going to be more comfortable than when you sit down on the bottom of a kayak."
He said most of the better kayaks now are very stable.
"A lot of people who have never been on one worry that they’re just going to go out and turn one upside down," Davidson said. "That’s not the case.”
Barbara Kelley, owner at Diamondhead Resort, recommends kayaks over canoes to her customers. She says they’re more popular, safer and more controllable.
“Rafts would be the most popular for us, then kayaks, then canoes,” Kelley said. “We hardly rent any canoes anymore. Canoes flip more easily than anything out there. They get hot, and they’re heavier. I wouldn’t advise anybody to take canoes out unless they’re experienced. We don’t even like to put them out anymore.”
Diamondhead, which opens Friday, May 15, offers a variety of kayaks.
“We have singles, doubles, sit in and sit on – we have all types,” Kelley said. “They’re more lightweight, you can maneuver them so much easier, and you’re more level with the water so your balance is so much better. They’re 100 percent better than a canoe.”
Rafting is even more sought after than kayaking at Diamondhead.
“You can have family groups on rafts so the kids don’t have to paddle,” Kelley said. “Of course, you have the big partiers that Tahlequah seems to bring in.”