A Quick History of the Folding Kayak

Imagine a paddle craft for 2 that consists of a collapsible aluminum frame around which fits a skin made from Hyperlon, used in constructing inflatable boats.

When collapsed, skin and frame fit into airline-size bags so you can go kayaking in the Fiji Islands.

Sounds too good to be true?

This type of craft has actually existed long before there were air planes and a journey to the Fiji Island would have been very long.

Skin covered boats have been used as transportation and hunting vehicles by the Inuit in the Arctic for millenia. Of all the different Inuit nations, the Aleuts were the best sailors with the most efficient crafts. That was due to their environment: the island chain in the Northwest of Alaska that is named after them experience very little freeze-up in the winter. The Aleuts were also the first ones to use multi-seater kayaks.

Aleutian Three Seat Kayak

Aleutian Three Seat Kayak

The idea of a boat that is collapsible for easy transport goes back to the dark ages. In 500 BC the merchants in the Middle East used collapsible skin boats to float their merchandise and a donkey down the Euphrates to Babylon. The donkey was used to carry the collapsed boat upstream again.

There are isolated reports of collapsible crafts during the 17th and 18th century, however, the folding kayak as it is known today gained much popularity in 1920′s Germany and Austria, when Johann Klepper, a tailor from Bavaria, automated the manufacture of the craft. Then the frame was made from wood and the skin from canvas.

Exploring the Ocean Shores

Exploring the Ocean Shores

During WW 2 the navies of all nations recognized the value of these crafts which were light, very maneuverable, and extremely seaworthy. Made from wood and canvass, they could not be detected by radar.

The British, the French, the Australians all manufactured their own models.

The Germans used folding kayaks in preparation for an attack on the Russians from the Finnish lakes.

The British and the Australians used folding kayaks to destroy enemy ships. A small fleet of kayaks would be launched at night from a submarine off the targeted ports. Navy seals would paddle the kayaks up to the moored ships in the harbor, attach magnetic mines to their hulls that were timed to go off once kayaks and navy seals were in safety.

The Americans took a little longer in appreciating the usefulness of these crafts. They only took an interests after the British used folding kayaks efficiently during reconnaissance missions before the invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982.

Recreational use of folding kayaks was very popular between the two world wars and before the advent of the automobile. Folding kayaks were easy to carry when traveling by rail or bus.

Sadly, once the automobile gained popularity after WW2, the use of the folding kayak declined.

Longest Folding Kayak Ever Built

Longest Folding Kayak Ever Built

The Interest in folding kayaks revived in the 1980is

when sea-kayaking became the fastest growing recreation in the Pacific North West.

Today aluminum frames have mostly replaced wooden ones and the skins are manufactured from ballistic Nylons.

The Cadillac of all folding boats is the FEATHERCRAFT, which is manufactured right here in Vancouver on Granville Island.

The longest folding kayak ever was built in 1928. It was 16 meters long and sat eight paddlers.

In these years some incredible voyages have been made.

The first Atlantic crossing in a folding kayak was accomplished in 1928 by Captain Romer, who covered 7,200 km from Lisbon to St. Thomas in the Caribbean in 90 days.

Oskar Speck made the longest journey in a folding kayak. It took 7 years from 1932 to 1939 and covered 50,000 km from Germany to Australia via the Orient.

Paddling the Fijian Islands

Paddling the Fijian Islands

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