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The History of Kayak – A Short Rundown

Kayaking is still very popular. However, there is no such thing as kayaking. Nowadays, sports enthusiasts are active in a number of sub-disciplines. Everything is possible, from fast white water rafting to relaxed excursions, from quiet lakes to kayaking and kayaking in the sea.

This rich variety distinguishes water sports. But how did today’s kayaking come about? Who were the first kayakers in the world? And when were the first lakes and rivers kayaked?

The knowledge about the past of water sports is not only interesting, but also brings us a bit closer to our favourite sport. Let’s get started right away and clarify the question of the origin of the kayaks.

The origin of kayaks

The origin of kayaking is difficult to date. Experts are betting on a history several thousand years old. However, historical finds have so far only proven that kayaking had already been paddled at least 2000 years ago. Other scientists speculate that kayaks have been around as long as the Inuits.

The Inuits were among the first peoples to build kayaks. The same findings were also made in the Aleutian Islands, which lived on the archipelago of the same name, which lies off the northwest coast of America.

Also the Korjaks, who were resident in northern Russia, probably built kayaks in order to use these for locomotion and fishing.

Inuits used either wood or whale bones to build the kayaks, wrapping them in the skin of seals. Whale grease was used to treat the outer shell of the kayaks to make them waterproof. Some of the seals’ bladders were removed, filled with air and attached to the kayak.

Most of the kayaks found are solo kayaks. For hunting and fishing the kayaks were best suited for one person. This is also the reason why the term kayak stands for “the boat of a hunter”.

The narrow boats glide almost silently through the water. The Inuit hunters rarely noticed the potential prey. For this reason, the Inuits could get close to their prey and kill it more effectively. Whales, seals and caribou were the most common prey. The kayaks are similar to the Inuit fishing kayaks of today.

Larger kayaks, however, also existed. Some could carry several persons to whole families. Findings prove that the kayaks were up to 20 meters long.

Kayaks in the 19th century

In the early years of the 19th century, kayaks were first used as sports equipment. French and German troops used the kayaks as training equipment. Adventurers and explorers also used kayaks for their discovery tours.

Kayaks in the 20th century

In the 20th century kayaking enjoyed a great boom. A particularly courageous man named Adolf Ardele is probably the first kayaker to practice whitewater kayaking. In the 1930s, kayaking on challenging whitewater routes became a global sport.

Another important milestone for kayaking was the inclusion in the Olympic Games at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

In the years after the Second World War, research into alternative manufacturing methods was stepped up. In the mid-1950s, some manufacturers first produced kayaks made of fibreglass. It was not until the end of the 1980s that plastic kayaks appeared on the market, which today enjoy great popularity due to their low weight and low price.

The development of kayaks

From the Inuits to the first kayaks of the early 1800s to the models used today, a lot has changed. However, the basic elements of the Inuit design have been preserved.

It is exciting that the Inuits already distinguished between different types of kayaks. Historical findings prove that in the Aleutian areas longer and narrower boats were used, which remind of today’s touring kayaks.

Kayaks of this type are more suitable for long distances because they can reach a higher speed in a straight line.

If you go further north into the arctic waters, the construction of the inuit kayaks changes. Due to the ice, the kayaks had to be shorter and wider. The better manoeuvrability of these models makes it possible to avoid small chunks of ice.

This type of kayak is similar to all-round kayaks, which are mainly used by beginners. In terms of the material used, the Inuit canoes differ dramatically from the modern kayaks of these days.

The production of modern kayaks

With the rise of the kayaks more and more people came across the sport. From now on, animal skins were no longer used for the outer hull as they were for the Inuit. Instead, lightweight fiberglass and plastic constructions were used.
These constructions did not have much to do with the old Inuit kayaks. Today’s models are much more robust, durable and offer many more options in terms of the colour scheme of the canoe.

In recent years, the range of different kayaks for different applications has expanded dramatically. Fine gradations in size and construction allow an optimal adjustment to the respective application.

Kayaks for oceans, kayaks with pedal drive or kayaks for fishing, which offer extra storage space for all the equipment for kayak fishing, are now available on the market.

Kayaks are not only a modern trend sport, of which nobody has heard of 10 years ago and of which hardly anyone will know anything in 10 years. In fact, kayaking is steeped in history and provided a livelihood for some of the peoples who lived in the northernmost regions of the world.

There is no doubt that kayaks have evolved from the Inuits to today’s models. Animal material is no longer used in the construction of kayaks. Instead of bones and animal skins, fibreglass or plastic are nowadays the basis for the construction of kayaks.

The basic construction is similar to the Inuit kayaks. The division of the Inuits into narrow kayaks for longer tours and wider models, which offer better manoeuvrability, has been preserved until today.

In terms of robustness, durability and manoeuvrability, today’s models are far superior to boats, some of which are several thousand years old. Aleuts, Inuits and Korjaks could only dream of comfort in transport and storage of inflatable kayaks.

Today’s models also have a number of comfort features. Be it mountable kayak anchors, luggage nets, comfortable seats or paddle holders. The first kayaks had to build everything that today’s canoes have themselves.






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