Residents of the Cape Fear have more time on their hands than ever since the coronavirus forced the economy, schools, team sports and businesses deemed nonessential to shut down.
With so many people dealing with business closures, facing a temporary hiatus or working remotely, all the kids doing remote learning, and social distancing making many favorite activities an impossibility, nontraditional sports such as mountain biking and kayaking have witnessed an unprecedented surge.
Places like Blue Clay Bike Park and Brunswick County Nature Park might have been almost deserted on a weekday afternoon before the pandemic, but now parking lots are full. People are going out in droves to take advantage of the miles of trails that wind through a variety of terrain, varying in difficulty from beginner and intermediate to advanced and expert.
Local bike shops have struggled to keep pace with the demand.
“There has been a line at the door every morning when we open,” says Jim Mincher, owner of Two Wheeler Dealer in Wilmington. “It’s like everyone suddenly decided they want to ride bicycles.”
Shawn Spencer, owner of Bike Cycles, is experiencing similar good-to-have issues.
“As a lifelong resident of Wilmington and an owner of a bicycle shop for over 20 years, cycling has not seen this large a surge in my lifetime,” he says.
The uptick in demand coincided with the forced closure of many parts manufacturers across Asia and China. Although most bike makers keep a large supply of inventory on hand, with even relatively small companies such as Jamis typically having around 30,000 bikes available, the supply dried up quickly.
“There is no available inventory in this country right now,” Mincher says. “The supply chain is in upheaval and it will probably be a year before it is back to normal.”
Most of the inventory that bike shop owners and manufacturers plan for is stalled because of the disruption in the supply chain.
“We just can’t get the bikes,” says Matt Jones, president of City Bicycle Company. “We can’t get baskets, seats, tires, tubes, bells and lots of other popular bicycle accessories because all our normal suppliers are out of product.”
Kayak dealers are also witnessing unprecedented demand and high sales, as people are flocking to the sport in record-breaking numbers in the wake of the pandemic.
“As of now, most of our ongoing kayak orders are pre-sold before the kayaks land in our building,” says Leah Bradley, sportswear contact at Great Outdoor Provision Company Wilmington. “We see a lot of people new to kayaking and enthusiastic about pursuing this hobby.”
With the Cape Fear River, the Intracoastal Waterway, Greenfield Lake, Lees Cut and Banks Channel and many other waterways, the area is perfect for both experienced and new paddlers.
“This is the prime location for leisure kayaking and kayak fishing,” Bradley says.
Chris Tryon of Hook, Line & Paddle also reports an uptick in sales.
“More people have decided to reconnect with the outdoors through kayaking, spending more time with the family having fun,” he says. “Kayaking has always been a great way to get away from civilization and make your own adventure. There is nothing better than getting out on our local waterways to enjoy some kayak fishing, working the marshes behind our barrier islands.”
The reason kayak dealers and bike shops have been classified as essential is likely because they provide a form of stress relief and a safe form of outdoor recreation.
“We’ve been deemed essential not because of transportation; it’s more because of the benefits to mental and physical fitness,” Mincher says.
Tina Weldon, a first-grade teacher at College Park Elementary, is new to mountain biking. The appeal of the sport is centered on how it allows her to get outside.
“Mountain biking has given me an opportunity to enjoy nature more often, while being able to social distance at the same time,” she says. “It is a great activity for the entire family. I feel lucky that our state has so many bike parks and trails to explore.”
Maddie Valliere is also new to the sport of cycling.
“My husband has been an avid cyclist for a little over 15 years,” she says. “It started out as another activity that we could do together. I’ve only had my bike for about a month and a half, but it has become something that I look forward to doing when I get off work. Not only is it an excellent way to get a workout in, but it also is a fun way to explore the area where we live!”
Kayaks and biking can be enjoyed by multiple generations of family members, while still practicing social distancing. In such a challenging time, the opportunity to get outside for a few hours and leave the cares of the world behind is more important than ever.