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Updated on November 30, 2016
Photo by Kym McLeod
Photo by Kym McLeod

In its primitive form as developed by the Eskimo, a kayak is a light one-man canoe consisting of a wood or bone frame entirely covered with sealskins except for a round cockpit near the center where the paddler sits.

The paddler sits low in this opening with his legs extended forward in the cockpit. He wears a waterproof skin shirt that can be laced to the kayak to make the boat watertight. He faces forward and propels the kayak by left and right strokes with a double-bladed paddle.

Used by Eskimos and some of the northernmost Indians for travel and fishing, the kayak is propelled with a double-blade paddle. Kayaks range from 16 to 24 feet (4.9-7.3 meters) in length and from 2 to 3 feet (60-90 cm) in width. Their narrowness and light weight make them extremely fast and maneuverable, and their water-tightness allows them to be overturned without harm.

Elsewhere than in the Arctic, the kayak is used in sports such as surfing or white-water racing in rivers and in leisure activities such as camping. A kayak for such purposes may have a one, two, or four-man capacity, a length as great as 36 feet (11 meters), and be made of fiberglass.  The Olympic Games feature several classes of kayak racing.


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