Kayaks first came into existence thousands of years ago. The Inuit inhabitants of the northern Arctic used them for hunting and fishing. The frame of the Kayak was made from whale skeleton and seal skin was used to form the body. In the 1700s, Russian explorers took the Kayak concept to the next level, making specific models for transport through the harshest environments.
By the mid 1800s, Kayaks were gaining popularity, with Adolf Anderle the first person to Kayak down Austria’s Salzachöfen Gorge, widely regarded as the modern-day birthplace of white-water Kayaking. This challenging natural obstacle set the scene for Kayaking as a sport, with them also becoming used by tourists to explore places inaccessible by other types of transport.
Kayaks are useful for a variety of tasks, with models built specifically for a whole host of outdoor activities. Used by divers, they have become a great way to get out to sea and access areas that are hard to reach for standard boats. Fishing from a Kayak is also popular, giving fishers access to shallow water and allowing them to approach easily scared fish in some of the most inaccessible areas.
Kayaks are also the preferred choice for ecotourism, giving groups a way to tour beautiful coral reefs and watch wildlife in spectacular bays. White-water kayaking is the most common use, with the kayak navigating through the harshest rapids. This activity formed the foundation of Kayaking’s inclusion at the Olympics.
Kayaking, also known as Canoeing, has been a consistent feature of the Olympics since 1936. Kayaks are used alongside Canoes in white-water events designed to challenge speed and endurance. There are two main disciplines at Olympics: Slalom tests athletes through a course of hanging down or upstream gates that must be paddled through in a specific order to get to the end of the course. The second discipline, sprints, take place as races on calm water, and are simply a test of who can paddle quickest over a set distance.
Each individual distance carries its own medal, with 16 events all together in Tokyo. Historically, Germany has dominated the table, as well as several other mainland European countries. The Soviet Union was a consistent performer before its breakup in 1991.
Team GB is a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to both Olympic Kayaking and Canoeing. All medals the team has took home from both the sprint and slalom have come since the turn of the 21st-century. The success has increased as time has gone on, with Rio 2016 a gold and silver in each event, not bad for a nation that hadn’t won a single medal just 16 years earlier.
It was Joe Clarke that took home for the coveted gold in Rio, inspirationally recovering from meningitis as a teenager to finish first in the K1 event. He's gone on to win medals in team events at the European and World Championships. Helen Reeves is another of our inspirational canoers, learning of her Athens 2004 bronze medal in the most unconventional way possible after her fellow competitor was awarded a penalty. She had originally been placed fourth on aggregate times but, whilst she was being interviewed by a television crew about her disappointment at missing a medal, several members of the crowd shouted at her to look at the scoreboard, and there she was in third place. A truly priceless moment.
Kayaking is our favourite outdoor water sport, so it's just as well that many of our parks offer it as an activity! Whether you’re as comfortable as a whale, or a newcomer to the water, our instructors are on hand to host a great time. Single or double kayaks are available for hire, so you can replicate the races on our scenic lakes. Kayak costs just £12. You can also join our Kayak coaching sessions, perfect for introducing you to this ancient activity. Each lesson is a great investment at £20. There are also paddleboards, pedalos and surfs available for all our aqua-inspired guests.