This fisherman got up-close and personal with a tiger shark while on a kayak off of Diamond Head, Hawaii.


On a warm, cloudy Friday afternoon at the end of August, Doug Perryman was being followed by a cormorant or merganser while kayaking in a location where Irondequoit Creek empties into Irondequoit Bay.

The bird would pop up to the surface, look at him, and disappear underwater again.

“It was going my way and that routine happened more than 10 times,” said Perryman, of Webster.

After suffering from cabin fever from the prolonged statewide shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many Finger Lakes residents like Perryman found themselves with a pent-up desire to go outdoors and have fun in local bodies of water.

They have rented canoes, kayaks and paddleboards from businesses at the Irondequoit Creek, Cayuga Inlet and other locations for exploration and recreation. 

Doug Perryman, of Webster, went kayaking in the Irondequoit Bay at the end of August. (Photo: Provided photo)

Perryman rented a kayak from the BayCreek Paddling Center for two hours. On his trip, he encountered a turtle that was sunning itself.

“This is a phenomenal place,” Perryman said. “A blue heron swooped by and I was able to approach many groups of ducks and geese and swans,”

“I even got a long enough look at a groundhog to prove it wasn’t a beaver (no tail).”

The boon in outdoor recreation has caused many rental businesses to have noticed large increases in sales compared to past summers.

Ken Altfather, CEO of BayCreek Paddling Center, said rentals at his business have increased twofold this summer compared to last summer. He attributes two-thirds of the increase to the pandemic and one-third to the sunny weather the Finger Lakes has experienced.

“It’s been a phenomenal occurrence,” Altfather said. “People have been dying to go outside and get exercise in a safe and enjoyable and socially distant manner.”

“There’s something about the water that restores people — restores their balance, reinvigorates them, and relaxes them.”

Other rental businesses in the Finger Lakes region have had plenty of customers as well. 

Puddledockers, a rental and retail shop at 321 Taughannock Blvd. by the Cayuga Inlet in Ithaca, is receiving 50 reservations on weekends, according to its owner. 

This past Friday, Claire Agrawal, a 31-year-old physical therapist from Ithaca, and Jeff Tyson, a 31-year-old Cornell media relations specialist, rented a canoe for two hours. It was Agrawal’s first time canoeing.

Like Altfather, Agrawal said canoeing is an opportunity for people to have fun in a safe manner and physically distance.

Prior to getting on the canoe, Agrawal and Tyson said they hoped to see sailboats, eagles and a nice view of Ithaca while they were out on the water.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Agrawal said. “I’m hoping for a workout.”

Jodi Lee Denman, who manages the WaterWorks District in that area along with G. Lincoln Morse and Sue Manning, bought Puddledockers this year.

After acquiring the watersport rental and retail shop, Lee Denman increased the number of rental boats to 23. The shop rents out canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, stand up pedal boards.

The facility also has a family tour boat and a water taxi that Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick has taken for a spin.

Puddledockers staff has also doubled. Previously, Puddledockers had three or four employees, but has employed 12 people on a living wage this year, and currently has six employees and sales staff.

The business also added a launch pad to make it easier for kayakers to enter into the water and prevent them from tipping over.

Customers are given life vests and a map for when they travel out onto the water. If anything goes wrong during the trip, Puddledockers has a water scooter the business uses to rescue people.

Many of Puddledockers customers have been family groups and other residents local to Tompkins County, but a large portion have also come from Rochester, Binghamton and Syracuse, and some have come from other locations all across the state, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“The conversations we’ve had with Ithaca is that Ithaca is a COVID sanctuary city,” Morse said. “People who didn’t know about us before have found that these lakes are beautiful, are 42 miles long and within a 250-mile drive.

“They come here to find that beauty instead of getting on a plane.”

Puddledockers plans to stay open until October. 

“When the governor isolated the states, it concentrated the efforts to stay in the state and meet. It promoted business in the Finger Lakes.”

Retailers also have had large increases in sales for watersports merchandise and equipment.

“The saying is ‘if it floats, it sells,'” said Scott Janas, the department manager for the L.L. Bean store in Victor. “This coincides with people looking to us to find out how they can be outside and be more active with their families.”

L.L. Bean had to cancel its company-wide outdoor discovery program because of distancing guidelines, but the company continues to play a role in getting people into watersports by selling kayaks, canoes and related merchandise and equipment.

The store in Victor did not reopen until June, at which point, all online inventory was already purchased, and boats in store were sold just within a few days of reopening.

“We were getting boats for the store and they would be sold immediately,” Janas said. “People were calling and getting on a wait list.”

“The inventory doesn’t stay. Suppliers are backed up. There’s a 10- to 12-week wait on the store getting boats.”

Perryman has gone kayaking multiple times in his life, but just twice at BayCreek.

After being asked why he enjoys kayaking, Perryman said, “The silence. You’re a couple of inches below water. You’re right in touch with water.

“You can feel the temperature. In weedy water, you can feel temperature changes. It’s a full body experience.”

Here are some other canoeing and kayaking locations

  • Chemung River
  • Hemlock-Canadice State Forest
  • West River
  • Howland Island
  • Owasco Flats
  • Staghorn Cliffs
  • Taughannock Falls State Park
  • Conesus Inlet Wildlife Management Area
  • Texas Hollow State Forest
  • Green Lakes State Park

More: Cornell says it will test up to 7,000 people a day for coronavirus: How it plans to do it

More: Ithaca community comes together to paint Black Lives Matter street mural


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