Most people have been out for the odd paddle in a kayak, whether it was while traveling through Thailand or camping in the vast expanse of British Columbia, it’s a versatile form of water transport. Yet it’s more than likely that your kayak experience took place in a modern fiberglass version, a version that is in fact far removed from the vehicle that the Aleut, a native people of the Aleutian islands, designed thousands of years ago.
While other tribes of the northern Arctic region, such as the Inuit and Eskimo, developed narrow kayaks that were ideal for navigating and hunting along coastal waters, the Aleut were the first people to engineer a kayak capable of transporting heavy loads. The Aleut, unlike the aforementioned tribes, hunted on the open ocean and therefore required a vehicle that could carry seals, whales, walruses and the like over treacherous waters. These kayaks, which are crafted from leather and are recognizable due to their unique bow shape, were named “baidarka” by Russian explorers who settled in Alaska during the 17th century.
The technique for building such craft had nearly disappeared by the end of World War II due to the decline in the Aleut population and it wasn’t until the ’70s that the technique was revived by George B. Dyson. Thankfully in 1985 Dyson published a book, “Baidarka the Kayak,” which helped reignite the kayaking communities interest in this long forgotten craft.
You can read a more in-depth history of the Baidarka over at visvim.com