The history of kayaks

Kayaks have come a long way from their handcrafted origins to where they are today as an Olympic sport. Their history goes back several thousand years to the Inuit and Aleut tribes of Arctic North America.



The original kayak boats were made from either light driftwood, fallen tree trunks or animal skins stretched over whale bones. The name kayak means ‘man boat’ or ‘hunting boat’ and originates from the Inuit Eskimos word ‘Quayaq’.

Early kayak designs were very specifically created to meet certain needs. This could vary from a need to be large enough to fit a family or to be small and agile to enable stealthy hunting.

It wasn’t until the 1800s that kayaks were bought into Europe, when the French and Germans first began to use kayaks for sport.

1936 saw the first kayak exhibition in the Berlin Olympic Games, flatwater racing. This was a real publicity boost for kayaking which led to their rise in popularity. However, it wasn’t until 12 years later that flatwater racing was introduced as an official event.

In the 1950s the structure of the kayak began to evolve and was made from fibreglass, creating the more ridged and uniform shape we know today.  This introduction of a more lightweight design led to the first slalom racing events taking place in the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Polyethylene plastic became the main material used in kayaks in the 1980s. The innovation has continued throughout the years to create a wide variety of styles, lengths and materials of a kayak to suit different sporting events and meet individual needs.

In the Olympic Games today there are more than 10 white-water kayak and canoe events. These events allow participants to enter alone, as a double, or as a group of four. The two disciplines within the Olympics are: slalom and sprint, which have continued evolving over the years, changing in both distance and difficulty.

If you are interested in looking to buy a kayak, we have a wide range of both canoes and kayaks available. Will you be the next Olympic kayaker?

Image: David Merrett under Creative Commons


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