A look at the evolution of the kayak from ancient times to the present day
The Inuit, also known as Eskimos, who were the early inhabitants of Alaska, northern Russia, Greenland and some parts of Canada were the first people to build kayaks. These kayaks were made with driftwood frames which were then wrapped with sealskin. To make sure that it stayed afloat inflated seal bladders were put in the kayak. They were used for hunting and fishing hence the name ‘kayak’ which basically means “hunter’s boat”.
As time passed other neighboring communities discovered the kayaks and begun building their own models. Some communities made their kayaks using fabric. Early 1900 became the game changer when Germany began the design and manufacture of the first kayaks made of canvas. These canvas kayaks could be folded.
These kayaks were no longer used exclusively for fishing but were now used for sports and other recreational purposes. The sport grew in popularity and in 1936 Berlin Olympics where kayaks were used for the first time in flat water racing and from then on kayaks have always featured in Olympic Games.
Design and manufacture of kayaks made from fiberglass, which is more durable and stronger than fabric, began in the 1950’s. This model of kayaks could be loaded with more cargo and was easier to maneuver. Due to their light weight, fiberglass kayaks can move quite fast and are coated with a protective gel that is scratch resistant.
Although fiberglass kayaks were quite durable, they were still quite vulnerable and this led to the addition of Kevlar during their manufacture. This led to the production of kayaks that were extremely strong, faster and lighter. This also became the preferred choice for those who engaged in kayaking.
The 1980’s saw the introduction of kayaks made of plastic into the market. These kayaks were lighter, versatile and were much sturdier. This really opened up the market since there now was a wide variety of kayaks made from different materials and of different sizes that kayakers could choose from.
Today there are different grades of plastics that are used to manufacture different types of kayaks. High density linear polyethylene might be difficult to mould but produces kayaks that are stronger and heavier than the low density polyethylene kayaks.
With increased popularity of kayaking as an outdoor recreational activity, light, easily portable inflatable kayaks were manufactured. Although inflatable kayaks have to be inflated to use, the PVC material used to manufacture it is quite tough and is rarely punctured. Unlike the conventional hard shell kayaks that were complicated to use especially for a beginner, inflatable kayaks are easy to use watercrafts.
Inflatable kayaks can be used for touring, fishing, white water kayaking and for sporting purposes. They are comparatively cheaper than the conventional plastic or fiberglass kayaks and are mainly hugely preferred by beginners and recreational users.
Fast forward to the 21st century and kayaking is now a widely accepted recreational and sporting activity with a wide range of varieties to choose from depending on the intended purpose of use. Kayaking activities have also expanded to include sea kayaking, surf kayaking and white water kayaking.