History of the Kayak

Kayak HistoryI began researching the history of the kayak more for my own interest and thought I would share my findings with everyone. Here is a brief explanation of what I found out…

There is evidence that kayaks are at least 4000 years old. They were originally made from stitched animal skins such as seals. The skins would be stretched over a wooden frame that was made from driftwood collected from the area. They were used originally to hunt on lakes, rivers and coastal waters by indigenous people living in the Arctic regions.

Kayaks Made to Fit

Interestingly each kayak was originally made to fit the man’s measurements. The native kayaks were very personal to the person who would use it. They were constructed to fit him so that he would have maximum maneuverability for hunting, in fact the word ‘kayak’ means “man’s boat” or “hunter’s boat”. The man’s wife would typically sew the skins and the man to  use the boat would build it himself. I can imagine that each individual kayak would be a beautiful work of art laced with a special skin jacket called Tuilik to create a waterproof seal.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a kayak specifically built for our own dimensions to maximize our maneuverability and comfort?! I had a neighbor once who built his own kayak and I remember that it was a stunning piece of work. Of course these days instead of using a tuilik we use a spraydeck, and instead of using our boat for hunting we mostly paddle for exercise and for the shear fun of it (at least most of us).

Kayak Dimensions…

If you are wondering like I was how a kayak is built to conform to one’s own body here is the typical measurement’s that were followed…

  • the length was three times the span of his outstretched arms
  • the width (at the cockpit) was the width of the man’s hips plus two fists – or sometimes less
  • the depth was his fist plus the outstretched thumb

So in otherwords each kayak would have very different dimensions and was special only to the person who built it to fit his own body.

How do our Modern Kayaks differ from the Native Kayaks?

Well quite obviously they differ in just about every way. Of course most kayaks today are manufactured as commercial products that our built to appeal and fit most people. They are constructed for sale – not for the builders own personal dimensions and use. Modern kayaks are typically built through computer aided design software programs with materials that can be mass produced for maximum sales. Besides the general shape of the kayak and the fact that they float on water, there is not much that modern kayaks have in common to native kayaks.

Today we have many different kinds of kayaks that are specialized for different kinds of paddling. Whitewater kayaks, recreational kayaks, sea kayaks, expedition kayaks, inflatable kayaks, folding kayaks… you name it, there is a company willing to build it. Lucky for us we have lots of choice and instead of having to build a kayak to aid in our survival we can purchase a kayak just for the fun of it!

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