Among the most popular water sports in the world, canoeing and kayaking are some of the most fun you can have on water. They attract a lot of beginners every year, especially during summertime, but since they are quite similar sports, they are usually confused with each other. Though they do have their common points, they have a lot of differences as well; mainly in terms of the history, the gear used, the techniques used and the water types they are used in.
Even though kayaks and canoes may seem like very similar devices, their histories are quite different in terms of place of origin and the time period.
Simple dugout canoes were used in a lot of different parts of the world, including Amazon rainforests and Australia. The world’s oldest boat of any kind was a dugout canoe, found in Netherlands. Named the Pesse canoe, this boat is thought to date from 8,000 BC.
During the 15th century, while Europeans were still exploring the inner parts of North America, which is today’s Canada, they saw local people using bark canoes that had wooden frames. Soon used by Europeans too, canoes became popular fast in many parts of the world.
Kayaks, on the other hand, were invented by the Inuit tribes. Located in the north of Canada, Greenland and Alaska, these people stretched seal skins over wood and used these silent kayaks primarily for hunting seals in the water. After being discovered by Scandinavian people in 19th century, kayaking became a sport for Europeans around 20th century and quickly found a place in Olympic Games.
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
The easiest way we can distinguish canoeing from kayaking is to look at the gear used.
Canoes are moderately big boats that have open tops; they don’t have decks like kayaks. They sit high on the water, so you can enjoy the scenery better. They have more room for more people and gear. They also have benches inside them to sit on and are more stable, so most people find them more comfortable and natural than kayaks for recreational activities. Plus, when compared to sit-in kayaks, they are easier to get in and out of.
Kayaks are usually smaller than canoes in terms of total volume. Not all kayaks are the same as they are divided into 2 main categories: whitewater kayaks and flat water kayaks. As you can understand from their name, they are used in very different types of water. Whitewater kayaks are built for maximum maneuverability; they are small and short. Flat water kayaks are longer and narrower, so they track better and are faster. Flat water kayaks also include sit-on-top kayaks for more recreational activities. Except for the sit-on-top kayaks, you need to sit inside the cockpit with your legs nearly straight in kayaks, unlike canoes.
Apart from the main boat used, our second most important piece of equipment is our paddle. Obviously, canoeing and kayaking require different paddle types. Canoeing paddles are short, single-blade paddles while kayaking paddles are longer and have 2 blades.
Other smaller accessories can be quite different as well. Canoeists usually use life jackets for PFDs (personal flotation device) while kayakers often use buoyancy aids since they need more movement freedom. Plus, more dangerous types of kayaking such as whitewater kayaking naturally requires more safety equipment like gloves, helmets, sunglasses, dry suits and such.
The differences in the equipment naturally result in different techniques.
Canoeing often requires two people on board. Each person paddles on a different side with simple strokes. As canoeing paddles have only 1 blade, they are quite easy to learn and manage.
Kayaking techniques can be more complicated. While recreational uses are still fairly simple as learning the 3 basic techniques (the forward stroke, the reverse stroke and the sweep stroke) are easy, whitewater kayaking will demand much more technical prowess from the paddler, such as rolling, surfing and maneuvering.
Since they were invented, canoes were used mainly as transportation devices. Apart from simple races, canoes are still popular for recreational, relaxing trips. Their comfort, ease of use and stability makes them great for calm waters, so you can enjoy a nice trip with your family and friends while watching breathtaking sceneries.
Kayaks can be perfect for recreational activities too. Flatwater kayaks are suitable for lakes and seas, and sit-on-tops are there for the ones that don’t find sit-in kayaks comfortable. You can buy inflatable kayaks if you don’t want to deal with finding space for canoes or kayaks as well. If you want more adrenaline, whitewater kayaks are your only choice since canoes are not safe for fast rivers or wavy seas.
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