To step into a lightweight kayak is to step into a 5,000-year-old tradition. An ancient creation designed by the creative minds of arctic Eskimos, the first kayaks were made from the skin and bones of sea mammals. These first kayaks took the Eskimos onto the sea, giving them a better way to feed their families and tribes. Today, following thousands of years of evolution and innovation, the lightweight kayak offers a different form and function to the modern paddler.
Using kayaks to chase their prey across the wild sea, Eskimos would harpoon seals, walruses, and whales many times their size. They would tow their enormous kills all the way home, creating a bounty that improved life dramatically, but not without significant risk. Others kayaked inland on lakes and rivers, catching caribou, fishing or just getting around to socialize and trade. They also transported fresh water by lightweight kayak.
Paddling techniques varied from double bladed paddles carved long and narrow to minimize windage and splash to small single blade canoe style paddles.
Capsizes were not uncommon with these early kayaks and with water temperatures just above freezing, flawless rolling skills were essential. Young boys trained on their mothers’ laps, “air paddling” with their tiny hands. By the time they reached three, they graduated to a balancing board. Adolescent Eskimo boys would have an arsenal of rolls to match the range of life-threatening conditions they would face on the water.
Today’s lightweight kayak can only be described as the product of an evolutionary process thousands of years old. Innovation and technology have given us new design processes and better manufacturing materials and methods. More importantly, the way we use kayaks has changed. Eskimo kayaks were carefully designed with performance and features that optimized their success in hunting. These characteristics wouldn’t be appropriate for the needs of the modern paddler. As such, we’ve adapted the design of the modern lightweight kayak to meet our needs today. Despite these changes in use and design, we proudly carry on the tradition of our paddling ancestors.
May we always carry with us the courage and ingenuity of our paddling ancestors. Along with their profound respect for the sea and its living things, and their passion for being on the water. And may we never forget that every time we slide into our kayaks, we become them.