Skin on frame is where sea kayaking first was conceived around 4000 years ago, when early semi nomadic people from various parts of the north northern hemisphere were using this deceptively simply hunting vessel to live.
The kayak was not simply a boat but a lifeline to their main food source, consisting almost exclusively of fish and seals, it was also used as transport following the changing seasonal patterns.
Today however we don't eat many seals and we have fishing trawlers far too efficiently hoovering up sea life to decorate our plates, so in a modern world what is the relevance of skin on frame now?
Anders Thygesen is a man who feels skin on frame does have a place in the modern kayaking, in fact lessons the whole world could benefit from.
He so believes in the relevance of traditional kayak design, that it was a traditional Aleut baidarka that he chose to paddle a the coast of Norway.
I caught up with Anders to find out a bit more about all things skin deep.
Why is the building skin on frame and traditional style of kayaks so
important or relevant today?
Returning to roots has been taken up a number of times, it will keep coming up from time to time, as we seek questions about our sport. the current interest is great.
To me there are two great issues - the sport of kayaking and rolling with a greenland paddle (and a tuilik) has developed quite a bit lately.
I see lots of recreational kayakers getting into the sport of rolling and stick paddling. a side effect of having fun challenging ourselves and others is that we develop our skills and become much better, safer kayakers. people seem to get more friends with the water when doing greenland rolls. it also makes me happy to meet elderly people who thought they had to give of kayaking, but instead switched to a greenland style paddle and kept going, since it in some cases is gentler to the body.
The other issue is kayak and paddle building, this is a sport of it's own that I make easily accessible by making classes.
A lot of the people attending my classes gain great joy and satisfaction from creating things with their hands. There are a lot of people out there who itch to make something they can actually touch, feel and smell.
If it works for paddling also, that is a 300% bonus :)
Could you describe to some one who has only paddled fibreglass or
plastic kayaks how they differ and for you what are there unique
To me building kayaks the inuit way is first of all fun, it is a fast and very creative way to build a kayak. I have paddled quite a few fiberglass and plastic kayaks too, and if i had no skin on frame, i would probably enjoy sea kayaking in a fiberglass kayak.
This is just my personal preferences in order,
first they do the job - the way I make my kayaks, function comes first.
Second they just look so much better than plastic/fiberglass kayaks (sorry plastic kayaks and plastic kayakers),
and finally they feel quite differently - they move gently and are soft in seas - no hard sounds as they bang into waves, no hard dripping noise from your paddle on the deck in calm conditions. To me it feels a bit like walking bare feet, compared to walking with hiking boots, that is my very own personal joy.
You run courses on kayak building and construction, could you describe
what is involved?
Participating in a class requires as much or little as you like, I do the technically difficult parts but still leave for the people attending to construct the whole thing.
You begin with a bundle of materials and travel away after 8 days with your own home made inuit style sea kayak, once home you need to do about 20 hours of finishing like painting and sanding to finish it 100%
In the classes we do all kind of designs, tailored to the individual, it’s a great social event too, staying and working close together for 8 days.
You mention a few different styles of kayak on your website, from the west, east and southern greenland kayak, to the bidarka and king
I find it interesting that different kayak designs developed in different geographical areas and at different times, all solving the problem of efficient self propelled sea travel in subtly different ways.
Could you explain how you feel they kayak evolved in these different areas and what the advantages and disadvantages of the
that is an enormous question! I usually build 5-6 different designs but there were once more than 20 known original kayak types and sub types in the Arctic. Each design was tailored to a special use. It could be all year round seal hunting in the open ocean like in south Greenland. Or it could be for a short special hunting season, travelling etc.
Through history, life in the Arctic changed and so did the kayak, until it almost vanished everywhere to be replaced by the motor boat.
When we look at Aleut kayaks for instance. they seemed to change their proportions through history. From being extremely long, narrow surfskis, to more all-round sea kayaks. You can only guess why. Maybe the Aleut became poorer kayakers - or maybe their kayaking changed as they were becoming more dependent on regular catch and regular income - or possibly both.
Greenland sticks seam to come in many shapes/ styles sizes and
weights, could you outline the key things to look out for when making
or choosing a stick.
As always when you choose/buy or make new equipment, you should try out a bit first. borrow and try whatever you can come across. people are so different, but what you once get used to, will often stick with you.
You should not be too orthodox in the Greenland tradition. Traditional greenlandic paddles were meant to be very tough, quiet and not too tiring to use when you should tow a dead seal home after a long day of paddling and hunting. Lots of this is also true for modern recreational kayakers, but not all. I prefer to make the blades pretty wide, sharp and diamond shaped. This gives me a great blade for effective paddling and manoeuvring.
To me wood is my favourite material, partly because of it's nice and warm feel, but also because of the beauty of a piece of wood.
It can be as light as a carbon fiber paddle, but it's made of highly sustainable wood.
It will last forever, but If you leave it in the outdoors one day, it will actually rot within some years - unfortunately you can't say the same thing about carbon fiber.
I would encourage everyone to make their own as it's a very manageable project that could be within the skills and possibilities of nearly everyone.
Most modern kayaks rely on a skeg or even a rudder, how does a
traditional boat like a west greenland kayak overcome weather cocking
going across wind and the loose stern you tend to feel with a modern
sea kayak going down wind with out a skeg?
For most of my paddling in Greenland style kayaks, I paddle without a skeg, but I do keep a loose skeg in the kayak, in case I need to paddle for a long distance in side wind. In that case, I slide the skeg into a slot in the kayak's bottom, oak wear strip, and eliminate the weathercocking.
In my baidarka, which is my preferred long distance touring kayak, I don't need a skeg at all. The kayak itself is pretty neutral, or I may adjust the trim slightly by moving the weight/luggage.
Re learning the traditional skills of kayak building and handling is
something that you obviously feel need to be preserved, why are you so
passionate about this and do you feel there is a growing interest in
building, paddling and keeping alive traditional kayaking?
Yes, there is indeed a growing interest, it has been growing for years.
The interest in greenland style kayaking, however, has exploded, when I started my business more than 20 years ago and until recently, getting into greenland style kayaking meant (like in Greenland) that you had to build your own kayak and paddle first. Now there is plenty of greenland style paddles and "greenland kayaks" on the market, and you can easier buy your equipment and get started.
I like to teach and help people in the process of discovering hidden talents.
lots of people think building a kayak is far beyond their abilities, but in fact it's quite easy. we are not so degenerated and far from stone age as we seem to think. and what a great project - to build your own boat and start exploring!
For my own part, it's the child in me still building little boats and trying them out, daydreaming of the great adventures that lie ahead, it still gives me a lot of joy to give meaning to meaningless little things, like paddling.
Preserving these traditional methods has a meaning as long as there are people who like to paddle, in my opinion the qajaq is the arctic's great contribution to world culture.
Could you tell us what your unto this weekend!
I'm going to the traditional kayak gathering, its an event we started this event about 10 years ago, the idea was to create a meeting place for people with interest in Greenland traditions and kayaking.
It also became the place where we held the annual Norwegian rolling championships, and before the weekend event we organize “qajaq” academy and you can come to learn rolling and paddling with a stick.
It’s held in the middle of Norway, which is pretty far from Oslo but not too far from Trondheim on an island with a view to the north sea. Besides rolling, we do kayak touring, rope gymnastics, socialize and have a very interesting kayak building competition – skin on frame style ☺
As skin on frame building and traditional kayak design is such a big topic have you got any amazing resources that have helped you and others may find useful?
http://www.traditionalkayaks.com is a great resource by Harvey Golden who has built over 70 traditional kayaks of various designs.
He’s is also the author of the amazing book ‘kayaks of Alaska’.
Norman Rodgers has written a fantastic book, detailing some of the myths and tales of the early Greenland paddlers who got engrained in Scottish folk law.
‘Eastern Arctic Kayaks’
History, Design, Technique by John Heath
Great online resource especially for the Green land paddling community in the USA and a resource of video clips and articles based around traditional paddling and rolling.