The Evolution of the Kayak (2)

Raising the Bar in Kayak Design and Performance:

New Standards For the Third Millennium

This article discusses the changes in kayak design, usage and performance over the past century and in recent years.

Part I

Traditional vs. Modern Kayaking – From Survival and Utilitarian Use to Recreational Applications



The first popular recreational human-powered boats in North America were round or flat bottom or canoes, skiffs and dinghies propelled by oars or by single-blade (I.E. ‘canoe’) paddles. As the twentieth century progressed people enjoyed more free time, canoe paddles gradually became more popular than oars, and canoing became a widely practiced recreational activity.
Canoing was practiced in combination with fishing, tripping and camping or by itself, and it was performed mostly inland – on fresh water.
After WWII the American public became gradually acquainted with kayaks, but kayaking as a popular set of recreational applications became commercially viable in the early seventies, after manufacturers found ways to use rotational molding for making low cost, durable Polyethylene kayaks.
Around that time some improvements introduced to paddleboards gave birth to the modern sit-on-top (SOT) kayak, which has gradually become very popular in a wide variety of kayaking applications performed mainly in warm climates.
During those decades American society’s focus shifted towards the individual, and the kayak fitted the new trend better than the canoe since solo kayaking required less skill and experience than solo canoeing.
Today, in the beginning of the twenty first century, there are some three hundred thousand kayaks produced in North America annually, of which about one hundred thousand are SOTs. There are also one hundred thousand canoes produced every year.
Most contemporary kayaks are rotationally molded from Polyethylene, which is a durable, reliable and relatively inexpensive material compared to hand-laid fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP a.k.a. ‘composites’) used in smaller production series. Inflatable, canvas (folding) and wooden kayaks are made in limited numbers as well.
Modern kayakers use their kayaks in a much wider range of environments and applications than native kayakers did, and manufacturers offer an increasingly wider range of kayak designs and models.

Fishing from kayaks is becoming popular in recent years, mainly in the sunshine belt states where it is practical to use SOT kayaks. It is considerably less popular in colder climates.

6 thoughts on “The Evolution of the Kayak (2)”

  1. Is recreational kayaking what you use recreational kayaks for?

  2. You can use recreational kayaks for fishing as well.

    Brands and designs labeled as ‘Touring Kayaks’ or ‘Sea Kayaks’ are in fact recreational by nature. The words ‘Touring’ and ‘Sea’ were introduced by several manufacturers and designers who wanted to differentiate these faster and more expensive products from the common recreational kayaks who are wider, stabler, slower and cheaper.

    The only kayaks I know that are not ‘recreational’ are those who are classified and manufactured for professional competitions under strict technical requirements issued by official bodies such as the International Canoe Federation (ICF).


  3. Still, it’s sometime useful to be able to make a difference between a slender and fast kayak and another kayak that’s stable and slow, by calling the first a touring kayak and the second a recreational kayak.

  4. I have been shopping for a fishing Kayak to use in the Florida west coast back waters. Every sales person I speak with informs me of why this one or that one is better, however when asked, none have ever fished from a Kayak… at least the ones I have asked.

    Can you make some recommendations for what to look for?

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