MODERN HISTORY OF KAYAK
I don’t know about you, but I love the history of everything called a kayak. Some time ago an expert wrote to us about the Inuit origin. That is why today I come to tell you -almost- everything that happened afterward. It is the modern history of kayaking.
The man has always had a need to move in the water with small boats. The first known ancestor of the kayak was found in Pesse, the Netherlands in 1955, during the construction of a road. Pesce’s canoe was made by setting fire to a pine log and scraping the charred wood to form a hollow interior. It has been carbon-dated between 8040 and 7510 BC. Pieces of a riverboat built with bundles of reeds have also been found in Kuwait, dating from around 5000 BC. And complete wooden ships, made of planks, have been excavated from Egyptian tombs dating back to 3000 BC.
The “total” concept of kayaking as we know it was born in the Inuit culture, as a boat for hunting seals along the coast and in the middle of the ice. Made with what they had in each place, skins, animal bones, and fragments of wood. In the Inuit language, it came to mean “water clothes” and is that each kayak was tailored to each paddler. In a tribal society like that the kayak was more than an object and there was a link with the boat. Since the kayak had to move through icy waters and the Inuit did not know how to swim, the boats were made in such a way that the paddler was completely covered. In this way, before a rollover, they returned to their position with a turning maneuver (roll in English) or imitation. Other characteristics were the push with a double-bladed paddle or paddle, and the sitting position of the paddler.
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Inuit hunter kayak
The first kayak remains that we have today are about 2000 years old, but it is a certainty that they existed long before that date, their existence is estimated from 8-9000 years or earlier. Another very interesting phenomenon is that the boat was adapted in each Inuit group to the needs of their environment. All this process made the kayak a very evolved boat, and with an amazing history.
IT WAS MODERN
In the 1740s, Russian hunting ships made first contact with the native Inuit in the Aleutian Islands. The Russians hunted seals and sea otters for their fur, a task at which Aleut kayakers were extremely skilled. The Russians, using very violent methods, enslaved the Inuit to get furs. The results were that they almost extinguished the sea otter and caused them to lose the traditional way of life. That meant a shameful episode, and the kayak lost its role and remained a minority tradition.
John-MACGREGOR in his rob Roy kayak
In 1845, a Scotsman named John Mac Gregor built his own report of the kayak based on past sketches of Inuit designs. Rob Roy called him and set out on a romantic tour of Europe. The books with his adventures (the image above is the journey through the Jordan) became very popular and managed to turn the kayak into something to do sports and explore. McGregor’s kayaks were made from strips of cedar and oak, and they measured 18 “by 30” and weighed about 30 kg. On some occasions, he rode a sail and even dared to navigate rapids. This first “quarry” of kayakers was embodied in the first club in the world (Royal Canoe Club in 1873) and the first race in London in 1867.
HANS KLEPPER’S REMOVABLE
In 1905 a German Hans Klepper bought a patent for a detachable kayak and manufactured it semi-industrially. It was a concept of a wooden cage covered with a rubber sleeve. He made more or less of Steve Jobs by making a kayak accessible to many people and showing the way to other manufacturers. Incidentally, it made life easier for the adventurers, explorers, and athletes of the time. In 1936, kayaking became an Olympic sport for the first time, and the Clippers won 18 medals. The Klepper concept is still in force and they continue to manufacture kayaks today.
With the Second World War, the kayak began to be used in some commando operations. The Frankton operation is very famous. Six double kayaks were dropped off by a submarine off the Atlantic coast of France. His mission was to go up the Garonne to Bordeaux and sabotage the port. It was 80 km of river full of mines, Nazis, and dangers. Above in the middle of December, they did not wait for the summer. Only two kayaks managed to reach Bordeaux and sink a few ships. Of the four survivors, only two managed to return home. This feat made for a movie that is entertaining and I recommend “the hell of heroes.”
operation Frankton hell of heroes
After the war, the ICF International Canoe Federation was founded in Switzerland, which brought together the national federations. This step was important to seriously organize sports events not only speed but slalom. In the 1950s, the Spanish canoeing federation was born.
In the 1960s, recreational sea kayaking became popular thanks to the advent of fiberglass in construction methods. It took until 1976 for the American brand Perception to introduce rotomolded plastic manufacturing with its Quest model. Plastic overtime was going to mean cheap kayaks for the general public and better adaptation to whitewater.
Around this time, Tim Niemier in California began tuning surfboards looking for something similar to a kayak that would not sink. The concept evolved into the self-draining kayak. At first, I made them in fiber for friends but Ocean Kayak bought the idea and launched the Scupper Classic in the early 80s. It took time but the plastic sit-on-top kayaks made the sport expand to even more people. I want to name here the German brand Prijon, which also introduced countless details that are essential to us today.
omei perception quest
I’d like to name epic kayak trips. In 1928 Franz Romer traveled 4000 miles from the Canaries to the virgin islands of Santo Tomás, in 58 days. Aboard a modified Klepper and aided by sail, he was the first to cross the Atlantic. While shipwrecked and drowned off New York. Unfairly many consider Hannes Lindemann the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean with another Klepper in 1956.
In 1932 Oskar Speck went down the Danube River to the Mediterranean. The point is that the man came up and was sailing for seven years to Australia. In a bizarre way, being German, he was arrested upon arrival and the rest of the war was sucked, prisoner. As anecdotes say that he used four Pionier folding kayaks and made a piece by bus to avoid the Suez Canal. This trip has been remembered by other kayakers like Sandy Robson.
Another epic journey was that of John Goddard and two friends declining the River Nile from its sources in 1950. This experience made for a book that I have read different times for how entertaining it is. The Nile by kayak.
kayak Oskar speck
Already around the 80s with kayaks and equipment optimized for long journeys, many adventurers began to do routes made in other boats, but not in a kayak. In many of these routes the kayak used was a Valley Nordkkap, a model that evolved over time has forged a legend. In 77 Frank Goodman and three friends circumnavigate the island of Cape Horn. Paul Caffyn went around Iceland, Japan, and New Zealand. But it was in 1981 when he managed to turn around Australia. A brutal journey not only because of the 360 days it took but also because of the harshness and the dangers.
In 1985, nine men and one woman, including the American journalist Joe Kane, toured the entire Amazon; some 8,500 km. Only four reached the Atlantic after overcoming treacherous rapids, mysterious diseases, and the Shining Path guerrillas.
In 1987 the first crossing of the Pacific Ocean in Kayak was achieved. It is achieved by the American Ed Gillet who left Monterrey (California) on June 25 and ended up in Hawaii. Paddling 2,200 miles in 63 days on the free sea.
There are more amazing journeys but they would give to write a book. These adventures continue in the XXI century although sponsored and available on social networks. The most famous case is that of the German Freya Hoffmeister. After circumnavigating several islands, he circled Australia, South America, and is now with North America.