Amid pandemic, boom for golf and camping, but gyms suffering

Lisa Sinclair helps Ovidiu Schiopu with a workout at Body Dynamics Personal Fitness | Photo: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist

Dr. Bonnie Henry’s mantra that it’s safer outside has had a clear impact on people’s workout habits: Many are opting for outdoor recreational activities like golf, kayaking and hiking, while indoor gyms are struggling to attract clients.

As a result, business is booming at Greater Victoria golf courses and outdoor stores, but some gym owners worry a looming second wave could threaten their survival.

For Jason Ball, owner of Body Dynamics Headquarters on Johnson Street, outdoor bootcamps and running clinics are proving popular but some long-time members have cancelled their memberships after an uptick in cases in B.C.

People attending the gym’s indoor spin or workout classes are confined to an eight-foot-square pod marked by tape on the floor, but Ball understands that some people are still not comfortable with indoor spaces.

The shift to working from home also affects the gym’s lunch-time classes, Ball said, with about half the number of people compared to before the pandemic.

Many have put their memberships on hold, Ball said, which has meant a 20 per cent decline in sales.

“People are stressed about a second wave. If it happens, I don’t think we would make it.”

B.C. gyms and indoor fitness centres were given the green light to open on May 19 but many waited until June, taking the extra time to get safety protocols in place. A federal government infographic released at the end of July lists gyms, indoor athletic studios and high-contact sports such as football and basketball as high risk, whereas golf, tennis, hiking and cycling are classified as low risk.

In July, 42 cases of COVID-19 were connected to an outbreak at a Calgary cycling studio.

Darcy Dommett, co-owner of Studio 4 Athletics, said the gym cancelled its popular spin and bootcamp classes because there wasn’t enough space for social distancing. The gym removed a fifth of its equipment to allow for more distance between machines, marked the floor with directional arrows and stocked cleaning stations with medical-grade disinfectants, he said.

Dommett said the demand for at-home work-out equipment during the lockdown was proof people missed working out, which is essential for a healthy immune system.

“Because people did miss the gym, a lot of people came back. But people that aren’t feeling comfortable certainly haven’t come back,” Dommett said.

“Our membership dropped dramatically but all the bills are the same.”

The gym also lost a long-term tenant after a dance studio closed. Studio 4 then spent $50,000 to upgrade that space so it could be used for classes, Dommett said.

The YMCA-YWCA of Greater Victoria reopened its locations in Victoria and Langford on July 16 with fewer machines, reservation-only pool access and closed change rooms, said Derek Gent, CEO of YMCA-YWCA of Vancouver Island.

Staff had to effectively redesign both facilities to ensure all public health measures are followed, Gent said.

The non-profit lost 84 per cent of its revenue when it shut down its health and fitness facilities and child care centres, Gent said.

The agency’s Eagle Creek location in View Royal remains closed, which has been a concern to parents who rely on the child care centre.

Gent said the organization just didn’t have the resources or the demand to justify opening the View Royal location.

“We want to get back open and start generating revenues to sustain the operation,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to show [the public] that it’s safe and comfortable right now.”

While golf might not be as heart-pumping as a spin class or bootcamp, sprawling courses offer ample opportunities for social distancing. Players are flocking to the links.

Jim Goddard, director of golf for Cordova Bay Golf Course, said tee times are in such demand that the course turns more people away than it takes in.

Cordova Bay is running at full capacity every day, which hasn’t happened in years, Goddard said.

“The golf course is swamped. There’s a huge demand.” The story is repeated at golf courses across the region. “It’s fantastic for us.”

Cordova Bay has implemented a touch-free system for retrieving balls from the hole, removed ball washers and bunker rakes and is only allowing people from the same household to share golf carts, Goddard said.

But once you’re on the green, things feel pretty normal.

“The minute they stand on the first tee it’s the same game,” he said.

Erin Boggs, co-owner of Robinson’s Outdoor Store, said the store went from survival mode during its two-month closure to frantically trying to keep stock on the shelves due to the demand for outdoor hiking and camping gear.

“It’s been absolutely insane. Gear is just flying off the shelves,” Boggs said. Tents, sleeping bags, freeze dried food and propane tanks are the most popular items for people planning camping trips or backcountry hiking excursions.

“Mainly it’s just a huge surge of people going camping. We can barely keep anything in stock.”

July saw record sales for the family-run business, which has been operating for 91 years.

“People are spending a lot more time in nature, which is really neat,” Boggs said.

Times Colonist