Who Invented Kayaking?

Inuit man in northern Canada hunting a narwhal. Vintage etching circa late 19th century.

Did you know that kayaks are about 5000 years old? In addition, animal skin was used by the people who invented kayaking in building the first kayak. Moreover, the first kayak was made for hunting purposes, not to be paddled on the water.

Many people around the world enjoy kayaking. Kayaking boosts the physical fitness of people who engage in it. Apart from this, evidence shows that paddling and kayaking lead to mental stimulation in humans. Are you in a bad mood? Go kayak on your favorite lake and see your mood improve.

No doubt, kayaking has a rich and deep history. You may ask —who invented kayaking? The purpose of this article is to examine the roots and evolution of kayaking. We’ll be taking a walk down memory lane. Now, let’s consider a brief history of kayaking.

Kayaking: A Brief History

Oldschool Inuit seal hunter kayak

The Inuits and the Aleut tribes of Arctic North America were the first people to build a kayak in 1577. They built it out of sheer necessity. The Inuits and Aleut tribes made a kayak using two main raw materials:

  • Driftwood
  • Whalebones

However, the kayaks they built back then were not durable, but they served their purpose. They used whale fat in making kayaks waterproof. Although the first kayaks might not be durable like we have today, we must still commend the Inuit and the Aleut tribes for their great improvisation.

Furthermore, the first kayaks had a broader beam. The kayaks were filled with seal bladders to prevent them from sinking. Moreover, the kayaks back then had more similarities than differences to what we have today.

The Evolution of Kayaking

The Inuits, who were the pioneers of kayaking knew their craft pretty well. So, approximately after two centuries, kayaks found their way into Europe. The first kayak got to Europe as a soft-sided vessel. Furthermore, the Germans and French began using kayaks for water sports shortly after it was introduced to Europe.

Furthermore, the pioneer explorers of the North and South Poles used kayaks for their exploration. A man named Adolf Anderle was the father of whitewater kayaking. In addition, he was the first man to paddle a kayak on the shore of Salzachofen Gorge.

Recreational kayaking did not begin until 1845 when John MacGregor constructed a handful of canoes he dubbed “Rob Roy”. John MacGregor toured the whole of Europe with his newly built canoe.

Furthermore, in 1924, John MacGregor and his team demonstrated how to make kayaking a competitive sport in Paris. Shortly after this, for the first time in history, kayaking was included in the 1936 Olympics games held in Berlin.

Europe played a vital role in putting kayaking on a pedestal. In addition, the Berlin Olympics brought kayaking into the limelight. Since then, kayaking has grown in popularity.

Why Did The Inuit Invent The Kayak?

The question above will interest you if you are a fan of kayaking. The first kayak that was invented by the Inuit tribe was called qajaj. The kayak was extremely lightweight. It was made of seal skins and whale bones.

After making the qajaj, the Inuits did not stop at this. They created an umiak, a larger version of the first kayak. About 15 people could sail with it at once.

Furthermore, the Inuits, those who invented kayaking wore a full-body tullik when on a kayak to protect them from drowning. The tullik provided buoyancy for the Inuits on water.

What Are Kayaks Made Of Today?

Modern-day kayaks are different from the ones made by the Inuit tribe. The science behind the making of kayaks has not changed over the years. But the materials used in building kayaks are now more durable.

There are different types of kayaks today. They vary in terms of performance, durability, and price. But whalebones and seal skins are no longer in use.

Every type of kayak available today has pros and cons. Your preference for a particular type would depend on what you need it for. The common kayaks we have today include:

  • Wooden kayaks
  • Rotomolded kayaks
  • Thermoform kayaks
  • Composite kayaks

The above-listed kayaks all have their strengths and weaknesses. Let’s discuss briefly about each one of them.

Wooden Kayaks

Woman kayaking on a wooden kayak

Kayak manufacturers hardly produce wooden kayaks on a massive scale. This is due to the low demand for wooden kayaks. Furthermore, wooden kayaks available are do-it-yourself projects. There are two types:

  • Stitch and glue
  • Cold molded

Stitch and glue kayaks are easy to build. It involves gathering plywood and modeling them into your preferred shapes and designs. In addition, stitch and glue kayaks do not need advanced technical skills to create one.

On the other hand, Cold molded kayaks require a bit of skill. It involves collecting strips of wood and clamping them together. It’s a bit more durable than stitch and glue kayaks.

The major advantage of using a wooden kayak is that it’s structurally efficient and lightweight. While the drawback is that it is time-consuming to make one.

Rotomolded Kayaks

Rotomolded kayaks are undoubtedly the most popular recreational kayaks. They became popular in the early 1970s. “Rotomolded” got its name from “rotational molding” —the process of manufacturing Rotomolded kayaks.

Furthermore, Rotomolded kayaks can withstand high impacts. So, this is why kayakers prefer using them in rocky environments and whitewater.

However, Rotomolded kayaks are relatively heavy than other kayak materials. This explains why they are not suitable for long-distance tours. Rotomolded kayaks are more budget-friendly than other kayaks.

Thermoform Kayaks

Thermoform kayaks are durable and made of superior materials. They are superior because they are lightweight and long-lasting than other kayaks. These kayaks are more expensive than Rotomolded kayaks.

Unlike Rotomolded kayaks, you can tour long distances with a Thermoform kayak. In addition, due to its lightweight, it is faster on water. But not as fast as composite kayaks.

Another benefit of Thermoform kayaks is that they are easy to fix when damaged. However, one drawback is that it loses its quality slowly even with effective maintenance.

Composite Kayaks

A composite kayak

As the name suggests, composite kayaks are made with different kinds of materials. If you’re looking for a premium kayak that is light and durable, composite kayaks are the go-to kayaks. Composite kayaks are of three main types:

  • Fiberglass
  • Carbon fiber
  • Aramid fiber

The three listed synthetic materials above are commonly used in making composite kayaks. In addition, some composite kayaks consist of all three materials.

Sea kayaking enthusiasts love using composite kayaks due to their extreme lightweight. Furthermore, kayakers who engage in professional kayaking sports prefer using composite kayaks due to their speed and ease of use.

However, composite kayaks do not come cheap. They are most times too expensive for the average kayaker. In addition, a simple impact on the sea can damage the kayak’s hull.

The Future of Kayaking

The Inuit tribe who invented kayaking would be proud to see the giant strides being made in the kayaking world. Since they invented kayaking with animal skins, a lot of things have been achieved.

Some would argue that the future of kayaking is now, I believe there is still more to come! Some years ago, kayaking was all about hitting the waters with heavy paddles. There was no need for kayaks with high-end features.

But right now, there is a high demand for lightweight kayaks that can go on long tours. Kayakers are now more daring and adventurous. So there’s a need for better kayaks that can withstand risky conditions.

Furthermore, in the early days of kayaking, men were the ones engaging in it. But right now, both men and women from all walks of life enjoy kayaking. In addition, families can now go on kayaking tours without any iota of fear. It can only get better!

What a time to be alive! The next time you sit on a kayak, take your time and reminisce about the intriguing history of a kayak. We need to thank the Inuit tribe for coming up with the idea of this amazing watercraft!