History of Kayaks

Kayaking has been around for thousands of years since the Inuits (Eskimos) started to paddle in the waters with low, narrow vessels made of various materials. They used kayaks primarily for hunting and fishing. Nowadays though, kayaking is mostly recreation and a sport.  Are you or someone you know interested in getting started with Kayaking?  Check out this great getting started with kayaking guide!

Kayaks were first used by the indigenous people, called the Inuits (Eskimos), who inhabited Alaska, Greenland, and northernmost parts of Russia. The use of kayak dates back some 4000 years ago but archaeological evidence was collected 2000 years ago. The oldest kayak is till yet displayed in the State Museum of Ethnology in Munich, Germany, Holland in 1577.

Earlier kayaks were used for hunting marine animals such as caribou, whales and seals. The Inuit and Aleut people of North America were masters in using kayaks but history says kayaks were first used by Siberian people for hunting.

In the 1800s, The Europeans, Germans and French considered kayaks ideal for sporting and fitness. In 1905 a German named Hans Klepper invented a “foldboat,” which was the earliest known version of a foldable kayak. This altered the perception that kayak was only used for hunting, and that it could now also be used as a vessel for sports and recreation.

Hence this was the beginning of the evolution of kayak; in its use and construction. These early kayaks were first constructed from various materials, chiefly driftwood, whale bones and seal skins. In earlier days different regions had different designs for the construction of kayaks. Over the years, not only the design nut the material used has evolved and from plastic to wood and fabric, today kayaks are widely made from fibreglass which makes them lighter, more versatile and sturdier than before. They also come in many colors, sizes and models, leaving many choices for enthusiasts.

In many parts of the world, kayaks are known as canoe however there are evident differences in both. A kayak consists of a deck that covers the hull to prevent the water from entering the hull. A canoe doesn’t consist of a deck. As compared to a canoe, the kayak has lower gunwales and a lower cargo capacity, which allows it to sit low into the water.

In the year 1930, Adolf Anderle took kayaking to the next level and experimented with whitewater paddling. This also led to the foundation of International Scale of River Difficulty and that’s when whitewater paddling took its formal position.

In 1936, kayaking became part of the Olympic sports in Berlin Summer Games introducing singles and pairs 1,000 and 10,000 meters race. This was the time when kayaking gained global recognition as a sport, inviting women to participate as well.

Since 1956, kayaking has been a focus for many especially George Dyson who gave many years of his life travelling along Coastal British Columbia and constructing different kayaks


The “Nordkapp Kayak” was manufactured by a company called Valley Products during the 1950s. The company became known for developing and producing fibreglass kayaks, and the “Nordkapp Kayak” was designed to handle more cargo while still managing to remain tight and navigable.

Modern kayaks are also designed after the ancient counterparts by the Eskimos — they should also be specifically designed according to the needs and preferences of every region. For instance, there are kayaks that are made for calm waters, and there are also sea kayaks which are generally made longer and faster. White water kayaks are also built differently to withstand the savage water currents. There are even kayaks made for children, too!

Sea Quest Kayak Tours is a whale watching tour agency based in Harbor, Washington. It takes guests to a kayak tour in the San Juan Islands in Washington to watch several varieties of whales — you’ll experience viewing orcas up close while kayaking in the middle of the sea! Sea kayaks can also be used in lakes and bays apart from oceans. They must be seaworthy and able to be incorporated with a spray deck (a flexible cover which prevents water from entering into the kayak).

Kayak tours are quite popular throughout the country. Many local tour operators are offering kayaking/canoeing expeditions to guests. Among the most popular places for kayaking and canoeing are Prince William Sound and Chugach National Forest in Alaska, the San Juan Islands in Washington, Clearwater Canoe Trail in Lolo National Forest in Montana, and the Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada, among others.

There are many books and movies on kayaking which will give you first-hand information on the history and construction of kayak.

Where to Buy
Eastern Arctic Kayaks
Kayaks You Can Build
The Art of Kayaking
Canoe and Kayak Building the Light and Easy Way


1. Eastern Arctic Kayaks: History, Design, Technique

All that you wish to know about eastern arctic kayaks is in this book; from its origin to culture, design, construction and techniques. It particularly covers the Hudson’s Bay, Baffin Island, Labrador and Greenland in depth. For all those who take kayaking beyond sports, this book is full of information, facts and figures; all written in a detailed and clear manner and beautiful pictures that relate well with each piece of information.

2. Kayaks You Can Build: An Illustrated Guide to Plywood Construction

This is a complete book for kayak enthusiasts. It consists of easy-to-follow instructions on how you can make a plywood kayak and numerous colorful photographs and illustrations. Whether you are a professional who has been making kayaks earlier or a beginner, this book caters to all kinds of the reader in explanation and attention to the tiniest of detail. Alongside the construction method, this book is also very informative in terms of the history of kayak and tips/techniques on how to do kayaking successfully.

3. The Art of Kayaking: Everything You Need to Know About Paddling

This book is for those who want to master the art of kayaking. Written by Nigel Foster who is a renowned kayaker, author and lecturer, this book is one of his many books on kayaking. As a comprehensive guide, the book offers instructional manual starting from beginner level, progressing through an intermediate and advanced stage, giving the reader a thorough understanding of kayaking. The book is equipped with maps, tables, diagrams and sequential photos on all kinds of kayaking and paddling.

4. Canoe and Kayak Building the Light and Easy Way: How to Build Tough, Super-Safe Boats in Kevlar, Carbon, or Fiberglass

Constructing kayak isn’t a neck-wrecking task but certainly, one that requires technical guidance which can be taken from this book. The author of this book Sam Rizzetta is a boat designer and builder who has designed and constructed many boats, kayaks and canoes. This book of his is a reflection of his work, written in the easy-to-understand language and clear directions. It equips readers with different innovations in kayak building along with safety tips and tricks to make it stronger, versatile and unsinkable.


The history of kayaking is as dynamic as the sport itself, which is why people around the world are inclined towards it with a passion to pursue it as a career. We hope these books are of help to you in understanding and developing your kayaking skills.