Perhaps the only Arctic invention to be incorporated into a summer Olympic sport, kayaking and kayaks have been integral to costal life in the Circumpolar North region for thousands of years. All kayaks share the same basic shape and were traditionally made from animal skins stretched over a wood or whalebone frame. Within the iconic kayak shape, however, there is great regional variation in design, including two-hull and even three-hull kayaks. These were used in Alaska to transport Russian priests and officers. The word kayak is an anglicized version of the proto-Eskimo word qyaq.
Danish peoples first contacted Inuit peoples in the 13th century. By the mid-1800s, kayak design was embraced by residents of Europe. However, instead of using these boats to hunt, a sport was created around kayaking. The boats popularized at the time had soft-sided frames, while kayaks today are often made from rigid plastic or fiberglass materials.
Martin Family Collection, Anchorage Museum, B2007.5.2.311
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