Kayaks have an interesting and fascinating history. There are many amazing facts about kayaking that you probably never knew about – even if you enjoy going kayaking often.
Read on if you’re interested in learning more about kayaking and its amazing history.
Fascinating Kayaking Facts
- 1. Kayaks Have Been Used for at Least 4,000 Years
- 2. The Oldest Kayak in Existence Is Around 450 Years Old
- 3. Inuits and Aleuts Invented Kayaks
- 4. Early Kayaks Were Made of Animal Skin and Bones
- 5. Kayak Literally Means Hunter’s Boat
- 6. The Farthest Distance Traveled by Kayak on Ocean Water in 24 Hours Is 141.2 miles
- 7. The Longest Solo Kayaking Journey Is Disputed
- 8. Kayaking Is Part of the Olympics
- 9. There Are Also Kayaking Fishing Tournaments
- 10. Kayaks and Canoes Are Not the Same
- 11. Over 18 Million People Kayak in the US
- 12. There Is a Difficulty Scale for Rivers
- 13. Rolling an Overturned Kayak Is Called Esquimautage in French
- 14. There Are Many Kayak Designs
- 15. Kayaking Wasn’t a Popular Sport Until the 1970s
- 16. Famous Celebrities Have Been Spotted Kayaking
- 17. Pope John Paul II Was a Kayaker
- 18. The Word Record for the Steepest Drop in a Kayak is 189 Feet
- 19. Kayaking is Excellent Exercise
- 20. It’s Important to Take the Proper Safety Precautions
- Final Thoughts
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It’s believed that kayaks were used for at least 4,000-5,000 years. Of course, we’ll never know for sure, as no kayaks have survived from that long ago.
However, that goes to show just how useful and versatile kayaks truly are. Back in those days, kayaks weren’t used for fun and pleasure like they are now.
Instead, people used them as a means of transportation, as you will see soon.
Also Read: Tandem Kayak vs Canoe
While humans have used kayaks for thousands of years, the oldest kayak that still exists is only around 450 years old. I used the word “only,” but that’s actually a very long time!
Can you imagine your own kayak existing for hundreds of years? That kayak must have been made of extremely sturdy materials, not to mention well-preserved.
If you want to see that 450-year-old kayak, though, you’re going to have to take a trip to Germany. While kayaks were first used in North America, that particular kayak is on exhibit at the Five Continents Museum in Munich, Germany (pictured above).
The Five Continents Museum is dedicated to artifacts that are from the “other five continents,” other than Europe.
You may be asking yourself – shouldn’t it be called the Six Continents Museum, then? After all, Europe is just one continent.
Well, in Europe, people are taught that there are only six continents and not seven.
While in the United States, we learn that North America and South America are counted as two separate continents, not the whole world shares that view. In Europe, they view the entire Americas as one continent: America.
Yes, the invention of kayaks happened right here in North America! The indigenous Inuit, Yup’ik, and Aleut peoples were the first to develop kayaks.
They used kayaks as a means of transport. They used them on lakes, rivers, and even on coastal waters.
Sometimes, they used the kayaks simply as a way to get from point A to point B. However, kayaks were also largely used for hunting purposes.
What did they hunt? Usually, they would hunt waterfowl, sea mammals, and reindeer, using harpoons and lances to catch their prey.
The Inuit kayak was often a one-person vehicle; it wasn’t designed for two or more people. After all, people would often go on hunting expeditions alone, using double-bladed paddles to navigate.
The kayaks were often constructed specifically for the person who was going to ride in them. They varied in length, size, and overall dimensions to fit the hunter.
Since kayaks are swift and very quiet, they were perfect for hunting – you could sneak up on your prey without it realizing, even draping a white cloth over the front to make the kayak look like a floating piece of ice.
Typically, the Inuits used wood or whale bones to create a frame or structure for their kayaks. They would then stitch together skin from seals or land mammals to create a waterproof boat.
Kayaks were used in the northernmost part of the continent, as far west as Alaska (kayaks were even used in Siberia) and as far east as Greenland. In the west, people used driftwood to create their kayaks.
In the east, however, where there weren’t many trees, people used whale bones, which must have been much harder to collect.
In any case, there is evidence that the exact style of kayak varied from location to location and was adapted to meet the local environment and the type of water it was used on.
Today, while the overall design of the kayak resembles the early kayak, the materials used are extremely different. You’ll find materials such as resin, rubber, plastic, and fiberglass instead of whale bones and seal skin.
According to the New World Encyclopedia, the word “kayak” means “hunter’s boat” or “man’s boat,” which reflects its original usage as a single-man boat used for hunting.
Other sources, however, seem to disagree with the origin and meaning of the word “kayak.”
According to the Macmillan Dictionary, the word originated from the Greenlandic Inuit word “qayaq,” which means a “small boat of skins.”
It later made its way into Danish as “kajak,” from where it entered English.
In case you are wondering why the word would go from Inuit into Danish before entering English, the answer is simple. Greenland is not a country, despite what many people think.
Officially, Greenland is part of Denmark! Greenland first became part of Denmark in 1380, long before the Mayflower and the pilgrims landed in what is now the United States.
To this day, Greenland remains part of Denmark, although it has since achieved self-governance.
In 2020, a South African national beat the Guinness World Record for the largest distance traveled by kayak on the ocean in 24 hours. He kayaked on the Kwazulu-Natal north coast of South Africa and managed to travel 141.2 miles in 24 hours.
What’s even more surprising is that he kayaked that long in the ocean, not on flatwater.
However, Quinton didn’t just do it for his ego and to show off. He raised money for charity at the same time.
If you want to follow Quinton on social media, his Instagram username is @_queueball. You can learn more about his achievement by looking at the story highlights titled “World Record.”
On flatwater, the longest distance traveled was 156.41 miles in 24 hours, achieved by Sebastian Szubski of Poland, kayaking in Poland.
So, we’ve seen the world record for the longest distance traveled in 24 hours on both flat water and ocean water. However, how long was the longest solo kayaking trip?
Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple.
At one point, the Guinness World Record went to a Polish national by the name of Marcin Gienieczko, who supposedly kayaked alone from Peru to Brazil, over a distance of 3,720 miles.
However, Guinness World Records subsequently issued a press release revoking the award, claiming that there are doubts about the authenticity of the claim. As of now, there is no entry in the Guinness World Records for the longest solo kayaking trip, as nobody holds the title.
In other words, you are free to aim for it yourself if you think you have it in yourself to do it. 😉
So, what was fraudulent about Mr. Gienieczko’s claim? Apparently, he didn’t actually do it all alone – he had someone help him paddle for hours each day, according to Men’s Journal.
While nobody holds the Guinness World Record for the longest kayaking journey, that doesn’t mean that the actual record will be easy to beat. You need to meet certain qualifications and document your claim to win the Guinness World Record – but the actual longest kayaking journey is simply so shocking that it seems unbelievable.
Nevertheless, while not in the Guinness World Records, it is true, according to many sources, such as Vanity Fair.
The man’s name was Oskar Speck, and he left Germany on his kayak in 1931 after losing his business due to the recession. His journey on his kayak took a total of seven years!
Seven years and 30,000 miles later, he landed on the coast of Australia, only to be arrested as a spy. At that time, the war had already broken out, and people were suspicious of him.
Of course, he made stops on his journey. Some of his troubles included almost being beheaded by tribesmen in Papua New Guinea and fighting off malaria.
What about the longest distance traveled over an ocean (not the longest distance traveled in general)?
That Guinness World Record goes to Aleksander Doba, a Polish national. He traveled over 4,000 miles in almost 200 days from Portugal to Florida, all alone.
It seems like the Polish really have a knack for winning kayaking world records!
Unfortunately, Aleksander Doba later ended up dying after losing consciousness while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. He was 74 years old.
It’s a pretty tragic ending, but he died doing what he loved best: exploring, going on adventures, and overcoming challenges.
Yes, kayaking/canoeing is part of the Olympics, and it has been that way since the 1930s. There are two categories, one of which is a canoe sprint.
Team USA has won 16 medals so far.
There are also various fishing tournaments that take place on kayaks. For example, there is the Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament, which takes place in Florida and attracts people from all over the country.
Kayak Bass Fishing also holds various events for the Kayak Bass Fishing community, such as tournaments and championships.
Many people confuse the two, but the kayak is not the same thing as the canoe. Many people use the two words interchangeably, but that’s due to ignorance, for the most part.
In general, canoes are bigger and wider than kayaks. They sometimes have benches and can seat more people.
Kayaks, on the other hand, are smaller and lighter. Due to their smaller size, they are also nimbler and swifter, making them perfect for recreational use.
The designs are pretty different as well. Canoes are typically open deck, while kayaks are typically closed deck, with a hole (kind of like a cockpit) for the kayaker to use to get inside.
Of course, kayaks can be open decked as well, but the majority are not.
In addition, while kayaks use double-bladed paddles, a single-blade paddle is most often used for canoeing.
Kayaking is growing more popular each year, as you can see from the latest data published by Statista. Over 18 million people participate in kayaking in the United States alone – but in 2006, only 6.1 million people kayaked.
Why is kayaking becoming so much more popular? Perhaps the word is getting out – kayaking is cheap, affordable, healthy (it’s exercise), and amazing!
Keep in mind that those statistics refer to kayaking alone. Many more people participate in other paddling sports, such as canoeing.
The International Scale of River Difficulty was developed to give river waters around the world a standardized difficulty scale. It was developed by the American Whitewater Association, and it can help kayakers understand the level of expertise needed to kayak in a specific river.
There are six levels, also sometimes called grades or classes, with six being the easiest and one being the most difficult.
If a river is classified as level one, you can kayak there even if you are a beginner with minimal kayaking experience. It helps to get some lessons beforehand, but such rivers usually have very small waves or none at all.
Rivers classified as level one are also very easy to swim in.
Level two is a bit more difficult, but it is still appropriate for novice kayakers. On the other hand, level three is reserved for intermediate sporters with a decent amount of experience under their belts.
Level four, on the other hand, is already for advanced sporters. Such rivers have powerful rapids and waves, and you need quite a bit of experience to maneuver a kayak on those waters.
At the same time, they provide an extra challenge, so it can be quite exciting.
Level five is for expert kayakers. It can have pretty dangerous rocks, so only go there if you are truly an expert.
Finally, level six is reserved for extreme and exploratory rapids. They go beyond the “expert” category and are extremely dangerous.
That’s not to say some people don’t venture out and go there, but it’s a risk, so be prepared.
Before deciding to travel somewhere on a kayaking trip, it’s important to check the difficulty level of the river under the International Scale of River Difficulty. Take your time and build up your experience before going on a river that might be too challenging for you.
Remember what I said about Inuits inventing kayaking? Here’s something fascinating: In French, the act of rolling a kayak (overturning a capsized one) is called esquimautage.
Roughly, it would translate to something like “Eskimoting,” which probably has something to do with the origin of the kayak itself.
Nowadays, using the word Eskimo is considered offensive in English, so you probably shouldn’t use it. Instead, it is preferred by natives to use the names they use in their indigenous language, such as “Inuit.”
The reason for that is the word “Eskimo” was a term given by European colonialists to the natives of the land.
There are many types of kayaks, including sit-on kayaks, crossover kayaks, recreational kayaks, inflatable kayaks, day-touring kayaks, and many others. Each kayak design has its pros and cons, and it’s important to choose the right design for your intended purpose.
For example, if you plan on kayaking out at sea, you should use a sea kayak, which has a higher rocker to help you deal with the bigger waves. Taking that same kayak on flat water will just make it harder to maneuver.
We know that kayaking has existed for thousands of years, but people mostly used it for transportation and hunting purposes in ancient times. In modern times, kayaking as a sport wasn’t really popular before the 1970s.
Instead, it was a mostly fringe sport. Despite kayaking having a place in the Olympics since the 1930s, its popularity as a mainstream sport didn’t take off until the 1970s.
It’s, therefore, no surprise that kayaking is getting more popular every year. Besides, with the rise of ecommerce sites like Amazon, it’s easier than ever to buy the particular kayak you want, even if you don’t have any water sports store near you.
Check out these 15 best stores and sites to buy kayaks.
If you love hearing the latest gossip about celebrities, read on! Various famous celebrities, stars, and influencers, including Ben Affleck, have been seen kayaking at different times.
Other stars who apparently enjoy kayaking include Nicole Kidman, Kurt Russel, Kate Hudson, Gigi Hadid, and even Miley Cyrus!
Are they good at kayaking? Maybe, maybe not – but they obviously love it!
You may be surprised to learn that Pope John Paul II was an avid kayaker! Of course, that all happened before he became Pope, but it did occur while he was still a bishop and priest.
In fact, his kayak is on display in a museum in Warsaw. The Polish Pope used to go kayaking in Poland before he moved to the Vatican.
Do you feel your heart drop every time you go over a small waterfall or drop a few feet down? Can you imagine doing a 189-foot drop in a kayak?
If your stomach gets tied in a knot just from thinking of it, nobody would be surprised. Someone, however, decided to do just that: paddle over the Palouse Falls in Washington State on a kayak.
His name is Tyler Bradt, and he’s a professional – don’t try this at home! His Instagram is @tylerbradt.
He survived, and he only suffered some minor injuries, like a sprained wrist. While the drop was originally measured at 186 feet, it was later remeasured at 189 feet.
Kayaking isn’t only about strength. A lot of it is about technique, which means you don’t have to be a bodybuilder or athlete to go kayaking.
However, a lot of it is about strength and endurance. Going kayaking is excellent for your health, as it gives you a great cardio workout and strengthens your muscles at the same time.
To build up your endurance, start with shorter kayaking trips. When you feel ready to handle them, go on longer trips.
There are other ways to train for kayaking. Remember, a lot is about endurance, so using an exercise bike at home or at your gym will help.
You can also lift weights or do pushups or pullups to strengthen your arms, which will help you when paddling.
Before going kayaking, it’s important to put safety first and take the necessary precautions to protect yourself. That starts with knowing how to swim.
While knowing how to swim isn’t always essential for kayaking, you will feel a lot safer on the waters if you know you can swim if your kayak rolls over.
Nevertheless, you should still wear a life jacket in case you get submerged. It’s particularly important for kids, even if you are staying close to shore.
As I mentioned, you should also check the difficulty level of the water. Finally, be aware of weather conditions before going out.
Even in waters that are usually safe, it can quickly turn dangerous if it rains or there is a storm.
I hope you enjoyed this list of fascinating and amazing facts about kayaking. If you liked this article, you might like some of our other guides, such as the 10 Best Kayaking Tips in Florida.
Also, share this with a friend or on social media so your kayaker friends can also enjoy it!