History of Kayak: Eskimos 4000 Years Vision Realized

History of Kayak Explained

A kayak refers to a boat with a cockpit, which a person can control using a double blade paddle when seated facing forward, and the term Kayak is an Eskimo word meaning man-boat. Historically kayak came from Greenland where the Eskimo tribe relied on it for survival. Besides, the first people to use kayak 4000 years ago are the Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut on inland lakes, rivers, sea waters in the region, such as Arctic Ocean, North Atlantic, Bering Sea, and North Pacific oceans. In the initial stages, the kayak was predominant in North America, after the introduction by the native people of western Alaskan. The old model was constructed using wooden materials with a small hole in the middle for a person to sit on, while the Inuit from eastern relied on whalebone due to lack of trees. Besides, the seal’s skin was wrapped over a curved wooden frame, and as a results kayaks were lightweight and streamlined. The oldest kayak dating back to 1577 is lying in the North America department of the State Museum of Ethnology in Munich.

Why Kayak Invention?

In the old days, traveling long distance was impossible without crossing a water body, such as lakes and rivers. As a result, it necessitated the early user to think of how to move in water to trade, fish, and hunt wild animals. Therefore, the kayak is one of the mode of transport and a way to reach food for survival. But in the 18th century, a Scottish John MacGregor was the first to introduce recreational kayaking and paddled rivers and lakes testing the new discovery. MacGregor invention popularizes water kayaking across the globe with Britain adopting the model.

recreational kayak invented by MacGregor
John MacGregor : Inventor of recreational kayak

How Kayak was constructed

The skills and techniques used by native people to construct the kayaks were passed on from their ancestors through observation and oral tradition and built by the man with assistance from their wives and children. In the process, the man assembled the wood for construction, while the wife sewed the skins using Tuilik garment. The Tuilik then produced drawstrings, in the coaming, wrists, and twists at the boat’s edges. In addition, the use of the garment aid the Eskimos in rescue when a kayak capsized in water. The old boats by the Eskimos were of different sizes, ranging from 17 to 30 feet depending on the usage. In some cases, kayaks doubled or tripled cockpit designs for hunting animals and transportation of people and goods.

Traditional types of Kayaks

There were three types of traditional kayaks, namely, Baidarkas, West Greenland kayaks, and East Greenland kayaks. Baidarkas originally from the sea of Bering and Aleutian Islands were the oldest model in the history of kayaks with a round shape and numerous chines. On the other hand, West Greenland kayaks had less chine with an angular shape and designed with gunwales rising at the bow and stern. Finally, East Greenland kayaks borrowed features from the West Greenland model but had a steeper angle between gunwale and stern to aid maneuverability.

History of Kayak Construction Materials

Kayak materials have evolved rapidly, the first kayaks were built on wooden and seal frames. In 1950 manufacturing of fiberglass enables builders to shift from fabric to fiberglass kayaks which went on until 1984 when the plastic materials were introduced for them as a raw material for the construction of the boat. Besides, during this year, the first lightweight sturdy, and multipurpose plastic kayak manufactured.

Wing blade Kayak Evolution

The evolution of wings blade date back to the 1980s, in which the first version of the Swedish wing blade kayak was constructed having a shape of the airfoil. Before this, the boats had a conventional flat blade which relied much on force to maneuver. In addition, the shape of the leading edges was round. The Swedish kayak wing blades have been superseded by the Norwegian wing of the twists. Besides, the twist has an operational advantage to the kayaker by aiding the withdrawal of the blade at the end of the stroke with minimal force (Ross h. Sanders, John D. Baker).

History of Recreational kayak

Before, Kayaks, canoes, and boats were majorly used for transportation, hunting, and fishing. But in 1865, this changed by the invention of recreational kayaking by MacGregor, a Scottish invented what to-date is known as the sporting Kayak. The wooden Kayak traversed Rivers and Lakes across the globe, despite numerous Kayaking dangers. In his book, A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe on Rivers and Lakes of Western, MacGregor, described into details what transpired throughout his journey navigating fast speed rivers, lakes, and stream. The boat named Rob Roy was constructed using hardwood and a double wooded paddle.

References: Sanders Ross h., John D. Baker. Science & Practice of Canoe/Kayak: Evolution of technique in flatwater kayaking (pp 66-69)

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