Kayak: History and Market Trend

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History of Kayak


The history of kayak spans at least four thousand years. According to evidence available, the earliest kayaks were made by the Inuit people inhabiting the Arctic region. The Aleut and Yup’ik people also made boats that were used for hunting on lakes and rivers. Gradually, these boats were used on coastal waters of the North Atlantic, Arctic and North Pacific Oceans as well as Bering Sea. These kayaks were made of wood. Some tribes use the whalebone skeleton as the frame or foundation. They used sealskin or hide of other animals and stretched the material over the wood or skeleton. Eastern Inuit people used whalebone because they did not have trees in the landscape they inhabited. Western Alaskan tribes had access to wood.

There is no singular concept or design of kayak. The designs varied from one region to another, primarily depending on available raw materials and the climate. The purpose did influence the evolution of the design over centuries. The length, width and weight of the earliest kayaks varied depending on the purpose and how much stuff the people wanted to carry with them while hunting or paddling from one place to another. The Aleut people were the first to design a kayak that was seaworthy. These were longer and faster than those made by the Inuit and Yup’ik.

Kayaks had an extremely slow evolution for nearly four thousand years. The rest of the world was introduced to kayak only after European explorers learned about it. Yet, the kayaks through the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries did not undergo much transformation. The earliest record of kayak being used for recreational purpose beyond the Arctic region is of John MacGregor. He designed and created his own version of a kayak, which was basically a canoe, and called it Rob Roy. This was in 1845.

The major transformations happened in the twentieth century. Kayaks were still made of wooden frames and they were covered in hide or skin of animals. Fabric replaced the hide or skin and fiberglass replaced wood in the fifties. The first kayak to be made of plastic dates back to 1984. With the advent of fiberglass, plastic and fabric, kayaks became lighter, sturdier and more versatile. Today, there is inflatable kayak. A Sea Eagle kayak comes in various forms. There are contemporary kayak accessories as well.

Kayaks have been used for hunting and transportation. Kayaking is a competitive sport and a popular recreational activity. The history of kayak has some interested phases as there were designs with double and even triple cockpits. Usually, kayak is considered to be a solo vessel but two cockpits designs are very common. Triple cockpits are rare now.

Technological advancements and greater understanding of kayaking have lead to many changes. The dimensions, weights and other physical attributes are no longer subjected to speculation or personal assessment. These are chosen carefully depending on the primary purpose and the kind of course a kayak would be set on. The most remarkable transformation has been that of inflatable kayak. The youngest form of kayak made mostly of rubber has become the default choice of many beginner, intermediate and expert kayakers. Inflatable kayaks are safe, sturdy and reliable. They are easier to maneuver. The best ones are as suited for coastal waters or inland lakes as they are for class three whitewater rafting.

Kayak Market

Rapid Growth


The US kayak market has literally doubled in the last decade: It exploded from 7.76mn in 2007 to 16mn in 2017 (the most recent year for which information is available).  The sport has also become increasingly safer in the last 10 years — almost 50% safer! 

All of which means that the kayaking market is primed for expansion, with analysts projecting revenues exceeding $160mn worldwide by 2025.

Location, Location, Location

Market growth is expected to be strongest in the Americas.  Information regarding the distance most people are willing to travel for recreational purposes is sparse but, when all conditional factors are assumed, kayakers are likely to travel an average of 10 to 15 miles on a regular basis to kayak.

 Members of clubs, and those engaged in competitive events, are likely to travel twice that distance, twice as often.

Ironically, the primary driving factor behind the expansion is indoor arenas: Exercise machines simulating kayaking, and artificial indoor waterways, have inspired enthusiasts to pursue the sport outdoors.  While kayaking’s health benefits are largely cardiovascular, recent studies have proven that time spent in nature lessens stress, leading to an uptick in outdoor activities amongst exercise enthusiasts looking to get the most from their workouts.

But kayaking also appeals to hobbyists, travel enthusiasts, and fishermen.  It is affordable enough that even those who do not live close to major water features can participate, and there is little to no learning curve.  Beginners need only a kayak, a paddle, and a lifejacket!

It seems safe to assume that there will be a boom in rental businesses catering to the market on and near waterways.  These retail outlets will constitute the majority of the market in rural areas — in rentals, wholesale purchases, and sales to consumers.  While seasonal, those that sell products and/or provide other goods and services may remain open year-round.

Unlikely Markets

Artificial indoor water sports and activities continue growing in size and popularity, adding to the overall market expansion.  Enthusiasts are drawn to these indoor facilities for their novelty, as well as their difficulty and accessibility. 

Also safety is an issue: the conditions and atmosphere are entirely controlled, making them perfect for neophytes, as well as those with disabilities or physical limitations.

While novel today, these indoor facilities may one day be widespread, leading to organized league and individual competitions far from natural waters, physical therapy uses, and more.  All of which means that current projections could be far below the market’s actual value over the next decade.


The fisherman’s inflatable kayak is still around, but technological advancements have turned kayaking into a growing, multimillion dollar industry.  Indoor artificial waterways are introducing tens of millions of people to kayaking, while transforming what kayaking means.

Artificial waters provide access to an audience for whom kayaking was once literally out of reach, and inspiring them to pursue more traditional venues.  This is not only good for the kayaking, but tourism and trade at the state and local levels.

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