Kayaks were the invention of the native hunter-gatherer cultures of the Arctic and sub-arctic regions. They were a response to the environment that they lived in and a way to navigate the waters to survive. In the cold coastal regions they called home there was little life on the land, so they reached to the oceans, not only for nourishment but also for all manner of livelihood. Marine mammals were the staples of their lives: the hides were used for clothing and textiles; bone was used for tools, weapons and construction materials; seal blood would be drank to cure maladies, and even blubber was used as fuel for the lack of trees. In most parts, it would have been too cold to cultivate plants and it was only below the Tundra and icy barren lands that trees (or any vegetation that wasn't low-lying hardy shrubs) could be found. Living above the tree-line, wood was scarce, only brought to them by the waterways and tides. Driftwood floated up from the Taiga regions – the characteristically woody biome below the Tundra, latitudinally slicing through the subarctic regions of the northern hemisphere – and would be used as a primary building material for their boats. The driftwood frames would be lined with the hides of sea mammals, constructed to seal around the torso with a covered deck to prevent the deadly cold waters from reaching the body. They were specialised in their design for survival in these extremely cold environments, enabling the peoples of the northern regions to brave the harsh sea conditions.
Although traditionally made from driftwood, hides of marine mammals and coated in blubber to waterproof the boat, kayaks today are made quite differently. They are usually made from synthetic materials, but, as Kiliii says, "the funny thing is that in the modern world a skin-on-frame kayak makes so much more sense; it just does. They are lighter, take fewer materials to build, they cost less, they are easier to construct, they take less time to build, you don't require huge chunks of wood, and they are durable in the long run. There are all sorts of benefits to skin-on-frame kayaks."
© Lauren Holly Best, all rights reserved