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The Growth of Water Sports: Statistics and Trends Among Young Adventurers

The Growth of Water Sports Statistics and Trends Among Young Adventurers

The water sports industry has quickly become one of the most popular outdoor adventure activities among young adventures in decades. 33% of Millenials and Gen Z adults, which account for 42.2% of the United States population, said they participate in water sports

The global water sports gear industry alone is worth $43.2 billion as of 2019 and is predicted to rise at a CAGR of 3.6% between 2020 and 2027. Whether you’re interested in engaging in water sports recreationally, considering a future professional career, or just exploring industry trends and statistics for water sports equipment and accessories, here are some interesting facts and trends about the growing popularity of water sports among young adventurers. 

The Generational Participation Growth in Water Sports 

The Generational Participation Growth in Water Sports

The oldest water sport recorded in the annals of history is diving, which was introduced in the Olympics in 1904. Since then, generation after generation has engaged in water sports, from diving, snorkeling, and swimming to surfing, kayaking, and paddle boarding.
While there isn’t much information about the silent generation’s participation in water sports, there is ample data from 1945, the start of the Boomers generation, to the present day.

There has been a steady increase in interest and participation in water sports for the last 77 years. Via an online survey in 2021 of 18,000 respondents, ages six and up, Boomers accounted for just 8.2% of participation in water sports. Gen X comes in at 12.3%, Millennials at 17.2%, with a slight drop in Gen Z participation at 15.8%. 

While Millennials are more likely to participate in water sports than any other generation, Gen Z could outpace them, since the oldest member of that generation is only 25 years old as of 2022.
The water sports equipment and accessories industry predicts a continued uptick in sales, insinuating that the popularity of water sports will continue to rise. 

water sports by age group in the us

(Chart by Statista.com)

Why Are Young Adventurers Turning to Water Sports?

Why Are Young Adventurers Turning to Water Sports

With so many Millennials and Gen Z adventurers taking to the water, it begs the question of why water sports are becoming more and more appealing to the masses globally. 

There are many plausible reasons with accompanying data for more young adventurers to take to water sports, including the innovation of water sports equipment. Other reasons for engaging in water sports include:

  • The COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Rising Temperatures of Climate Change
  • Innovation in Water Sports Equipment and Accessories
  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health 

How the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacted Water Sports

Many industries came to a screeching halt with the onset of the coronavirus and the global health crisis that necessitated a worldwide quarantine. The pandemic canceled nearly all sports, especially team sports, but a few not only survived but they also thrived. Businesses that specialize in water sports saw an uptick in business. 

The rise in popularity of water sports during the pandemic is partially attributed to the ability to maintain social distancing while engaging in various water-related activities like paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking, and more. These activities are also a bit more accessible for some families since canoeing with small children doesn’t require as much work as activities like hiking

Quarantining had individuals looking for ways to safely escape the isolation, which may be the leading reason for a 35% increase in first-time boat purchases in 2020. The Water Sports Foundation is most certainly attributing a rise in boater education enrollment to the COVID-19 pandemic, with 415,000 first-time boaters taking to the waterways. 

The Rising Temperatures of Climate Change

In the last two centuries, since 1880, the earth’s temperature has risen steadily by approximately 0.14˚F (0.08˚C) per decade. However, since 1981 that rate has doubled to 0.32˚F (0.18˚C) per decade, with 2022 being the sixth-warmest year on record, according to NOAA’s data.
In fact, since 2010, the globe has seen the ten warmest years in human history. The rise in temperatures due to climate change is causing reduced snow cover and sea ice, seasonal temperature extremes, and changing animal and plant habitats. 

In the United States alone, at least a dozen high-temperature records were matched or exceeded in 2022. The hottest temperatures of 2021 were a staggering 120˚F (49˚C) in Washington, followed by 119˚F (48˚C) in Oregon.
Globally, countries like Germany hit an all-time record heatwave in 2021 at 104˚F (40.1˚C). Other countries, like the United Kingdom, Portugal, China, Japan, and more, also experienced record heat waves, some being the hottest on record since they first began recording national meteorology. 

The rising temperatures very well could be a leading reason for young adventurers to hit the water and cool down on hot summer days. The more time spent in the water, the more opportunity to explore water sports. 2020 saw a 60% increase in beachgoers from the previous year. Eight million beachgoers hit the west coast from mid-May through June. 

global average surface temprature chart

Growth in Innovation of Water Sports Equipment and Accessories

Due to the rise in the popularity of water sports, sporting companies are taking notice and starting to innovate their water sports equipment. The global Water Sports Equipment and Accessories market is projected to grow from 43.2 billion, as of 2021, to $55.2 billion by 2027.
These projections are based on the increasing demand for water sports equipment and accessories directly related to the rise in popularity of water sports

One of the new innovations to water sports equipment was the introduction of the electric surfboard. This piece of equipment allows surfers to tackle waves approaching from the opposite direction and surf without the need for paddling or waves. Some of the iterations of the electric surfboard allow surfers to propel into the air up to 49 feet or dive 8 feet underwater. 

Another innovation in water sports equipment is new snorkeling technology that prevents water from entering a snorkeler’s nose and mouth with a series of improved flaps and valves. Snorkelers can fully submerge underwater without fear of water entering their snorkel or needing to periodically empty the snorkel of water. 

Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Water Sports

Though the COVID-19 pandemic may have been a leading cause for the popularity burst of water sports, there are many more reasons why water sports will continue to trend. Activities on the water come with various physical and mental health benefits. 

Benefits of In-Water Versus Out-of-Water Activity

All types of exercise provide various physical and mental health benefits, including reduced risk of disease, stronger bones and muscles, improved brain health, and more. However, there are some bonus factors to exercising in the water versus on land. 

90% of your body is buoyant when you’re in the water, provided the water is up to your neck. This buoyancy helps you tackle certain exercises that are more difficult on land due to excess weight or a lack of mobility. Water also absorbs the impact your muscles and bones receive from hitting the floor during certain exercises, saving you from strain on your joints and bones. 

The resistance in the water prevents sudden movements, which could contribute to injury. Water offers 14% more resistance than exercising on land. That added resistance goes a long way for strength training your muscles. Being in the water while exercising allows heat to disperse more efficiently, lowering the risk of overheating. 

Physical Benefits of Water Sports

Any water sport is a form of exercise and provides many of the same benefits as other exercises. Pro athletes of water sports train vigorously to excel at their sport, so it requires endurance, agility, strength, and more. 

The following is a list of some of the physical health benefits of participating in water sports:

  • Builds endurance
  • Muscular balance
  • Improves heart strength
  • Increases circulation
  • Increases muscular flexibility
  • Improves control
  • It helps maintain a healthy weight
  • Improves strengths
  • Increases mobility
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Reduces the risk of certain diseases

Aside from participating in water sports, water exercises are also excellent for rehabilitating muscles. Many physical therapists use water to reduce stress on the body and relieve pain while still working out.

Mental Health Benefits of Water Sports

In addition to the numerous physical benefits of water sports, these activities provide various mental health benefits. There is a highly social aspect to engaging in certain water sports that encourages community and fellowship. Some benefits of this kind of socialization are emotional regulation, active listening, conflict resolution, and more. 

The following is a list of mental health benefits associated with water sports:

  • Contributes to feelings of well-being
  • Relieves stress
  • Increases energy
  • Teaches patience
  • Boosts your mood
  • Boosts self-esteem
  • Improves focus and concentration
  • Reduces feelings of anxiety and depression

Engaging in physical activity, like water sports, may help to boost the brain’s production of feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins. Endorphins interact with brain receptors to reduce your perception of pain and trigger positive feelings. 

What are the Most Popular Competitive Water Sports?

What are the Most Popular Competitive Water Sports

There are at least 24 different types of water sports in, under, or around bodies of water. Most involve some form of swimming, but each has its own objective and rules. Not all water sports involve athletes, like fishing

The five most popular water sports ranked on global representation, sponsorship, structure and competition, broadcasting, dominant countries, fan numbers, athletes, and salaries are swimming, diving, sailing, fishing, and rowing

These water sports may overlap with the most popular recreational sports in terms of participation. 

Swimming

Swimming is one of the oldest pastimes enjoyed in almost every country in the world. It’s one of the only water sports activities you can start with as young as one year old. Swimming has an active competitive scene from the community level to professional sports

Swimming is governed by the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), with a 208-member federation representing almost every country in the world. The United States is the most dominant country in this sport, followed by China, Australia, and Germany

Swimming is an indoor Olympic sport with 40 official disciplines, but only 32 are recognized at the Olympic level, including individual medley, butterfly, freestyle, and more. Events are also based on distances of 5, 10, and 25 km, with only 10 km appearing in the Olympic Games. Fan reception is strong, with nearly 4.5 billion people worldwide watching the FINA World Championships and Olympics. 

Diving

Alongside swimming, diving is more of a niche sport, though it is still considered an Olympic sport. Also housed under FINA, with 25 nations participating in the FINA Grand Prix and World Series and 30 nations represented in the Olympics.

The dominant countries in this sport are the United States and China, with 207 Olympic medals between them. Following behind China and the U.S. are Brazil, the U.K., Australia, Germany, and more. Fan reception is among the highest, with 81% of the Olympic T.V. audience watching diving

The structure of an event on a competitive level takes place in eight events, four per gender. Typical events include the 3-meter springboard, 10-meter springboard, synchronized 3-meter springboard, synchronized 10-meter springboard, and occasionally, 1-meter springboard

Sailing

There are various sailing events throughout the world, including Cowes Week, Tea Race, Mug Rave, and America’s Cup. This sport is under World Sailing, formerly ISAF, with 140 member nations. World Sailing governs eight major disciples; of those, 62 nations and 270 sailors participate in the Rio Olympic sailing events. 

The dominant country in this sport is Great Britain, followed by Norway, Spain, the USA, Denmark, and more. Fan reception is not clearly known, but regarding worldwide participation, both competitively and recreationally, interest is on par with a second-tier Olympic sport. 

Olympic sailing is organized into ten boat classes determined by size, weight, and number of sailors. Of those ten classes, five are for men, four are for women, and one is mixed. 

Fishing

Fishing is another favorite pastime that many participants start in their early youth. The sport of fishing is governed by the International Confederation of Sport Fishing (CIPS), comprising 115 national federations and 50 million registered individuals. 

The dominant country in this sport is the United States, partly due to the development of competitive bass fishing. France, Italy, and England are other countries that perform well in sub-disciplines like angling and fly fishing. Fan reception is massive, with 564 million people tuning into fishing‘s biggest event every season, the FLW Tour. 

Though fishing is not an Olympic sport, numerous fishing competitions exist, including Forrest Wood Cup, the previously mentioned FLW tour, Bassmaster Tournament Trail, and Bassmaster Elite Series. Each competition is divided into events based on the style of fishing and technique

Rowing

Rowing belongs to one of the oldest federations in the world and the first one to join the Olympics, Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron (FISA). The federation comprises 153 member countries, 69 of which appeared in the 2017 Olympics with 547 rowers. 

The dominant country in the sport is the United States, with 89 overall Olympic medals in rowing. Following the USA is Germany, Great Britain, Australia, Romania, New Zealand, and more. Fan reception is solid, with over 250,000 spectators and 7 million watching The Boat Race, one of rowing‘s biggest events. Olympic rowing is watched by over 2 million in the United States alone. 

Rowing has been a part of the Olympics since its inception, with 13 rowing events in the games. Rowing season has many events, including the Olympics and the World Rowing Cup. The World Rowing cup has three events in Europe from May to June. Each event accrues points, which are then accumulated to decide the winner of the series. There are 20 disciplines in rowing, but only a portion of them are in events throughout the season.

What are the Most Popular Recreational Water Sports?

What are the Most Popular Recreational Water Sports

While there isn’t a whole lot of statistical evidence on the number of participants engaging in each water sport, there are quite a few lists on the web with some overlapping top water sports activities listed. Some of those activities also overlap with the most popular competitive water sports

The most popular recreational water sports are sailing, fishing, snorkeling, surfing, and kayaking. The latter two water sports are the most popular among Millennials and Gen Z, with an increased participation of 17.3% for kayaking and 16.9% for surfing. The increasing sales of water sports equipment for each listed recreational water sport attests to their growing popularity. 

Boat sales in 2020 reached a 13-year high, with more than 310,000 new boats sold. The number of boats sold since 2020 has dwindled a bit, with 187,000 sold in 2022. U.S. retail tackle sales increased 55% in 2020 and continue to grow with a CAGR of 3.4%. The projected revenue for fishing equipment by 2026 is $15.4 billion. Paddle sports products like paddle boards, kayaks, canoes, and rafts also increased by 56% in 2020 and continue to grow with a CAGR of 3.9%. The projected revenue for paddle sports equipment by 2028 is $233 million. 

Water Sports Equipment Market Growth

Currently, the water sports equipment market is projected to grow $12 billion by 2027. Water sports gear entails apparel and any set of tools worn or used by an individual during water sports activities. Every water sport has gear that can be used to play the water sport or to protect the participant. Innovation in automated technology for water sports gear has greatly contributed to value sales. 

The global sports equipment market is categorized based on product type, age group, region, and distribution channel. 

  • Product Type: sports clothes, swim masks, goggles, watches, life jackets, safety helmets, and more.
  • Age Group: kids, adults, and geriatrics
  • Region: North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and LAMEA
  • Distribution Channel: franchise store, specialty store, online store, and more. 

Product Type

In 2019, the water sports apparel category accounted for the highest-grossing market share, with a CAGR of 1.95%. Following behind water sports apparel are swim fins, swim masks and goggles, buoyancy control devices, watches, and more.

water sport product types market share

(Graph by Allied Market Research)

Age Group

In 2019, the adult category (ages 18-65) accounted for the highest-grossing market share. That category is projected to shift more toward children (ages 1-17) by 2027. The many benefits of water sports account for the increase in participants, which drives demand for water sports equipment and accessories

age group by market share water sport products

(Graph by Allied Market Research)

Region

In 2019, North America accounted for the highest-grossing market share among all the regions in the world. The dominance of the North American market is partly accounted for by the increasing trend toward healthy lifestyles, which include the adoption of all manner of physical activity, including water sports

market share by region of water sports products

(Graph by Allied Market Research)

Distribution Channel

In 2019, the franchise store accounted for the highest-grossing market share in this category. Their dominance is due to their larger geographical presence, making water sports equipment more accessible to customers. Franchise markets are projected to hold that growth well into 2027.

distribution channel of water sports products

(Graph by Allied Market Research)

Key Highlights in the In-Water Sports Equipment Market

The two regions that have shown the most growth in demand for water sports equipment in recent years are North America and Europe. Middle Eastern and Central American countries are also growing steadily. 

The highest-performing market is the North American market, at a growth rate of 44% between the United States and Canada. Market growth in the United States between 2020-2025 is predicted to total $4.39 billion. These trends are predicted to continue to rise due to the increasing relaxation of pandemic regulations and the continued business of sports clubs, water sports events, and more. 

This data is backed up by the sales growth of key vendors in water sports equipment, including Adidas AG Footwear, Apparel, and Hardware, offering goggles, male swim briefs, female swimsuits, and more. Other top vendors are Arena SPA, which offers water sports equipment, swimwear, and sportswear for all ages and genders, and Baden Sports Inc., which offers some of the most popular water polo sports equipment

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

The water sports industry has seen exponential growth among Millenials and Gen Z adults, with more embracing the outdoors since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. With water sports equipment innovation and the physical and mental health benefits of participating in water sports, the industry will continue to skyrocket. 

The projected growth of the water sports equipment industry shows no signs of slowing down in the next decade, making water sports the outdoor activity to beat.
If you’re looking for an opportunity to pick up a fun hobby with bonus health benefits, try your hand at one of the many recreational water sports young adventurers love. 

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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