Harvey Golden’s Kayak Replicas at SSTIKS 2016

Kayaks of Alaska by Harvey Golden cover

There is something essential about kayaks.  Spare and economical, they bring us into intimate contact with the water and marine environment in a way few other craft can.  Rather kayaking to you means gliding fast and smooth over glassy water, crashing through surf, or working on rolls, hardly matters. Each time we enter our kayaks, we feel that frisson of anticipation and freedom. Though kayaks were in origin primarily hunting craft for stalking sea mammals, they have become something more. Of course, they are still an essential part of the culture of the people of the polar regions but their impact has spread to a worldwide community of users as well.

Few have done more to catalog the beauty and technology of kayaks and other traditional craft than Harvey Golden.  The publication of Kayaks of Alaska this year sees yet another volume completed in Harvey’s monumental life work cataloging and building the traditional kayaks of the arctic. Each new edition is a treasure trove.

This year, at SSTIKS 2016 June 10-12, attendees will again have the opportunity to paddle  a variety of traditional skin kayak replicas drawn from designs around the arctic and built by Harvey! SSTIKS (South Sound Traditional Inuit Kayaking Symposium)  is a sanctioned Qajaq USA event. Through Oajaq USA membership, the living history and culture of Greenland (and other Arctic people) is shared in events such as SSTIKS.

We would also like to thank Alder Creek who graciously provided a kayak trailer to haul the fleet north.  This is really an unparalleled opportunity – thank you, Harvey and Alder Creek!

Below is a list of the kayaks with a brief Bio for each.  I have tried to both give the feel of how the kayaks were used traditionally and also of how the kayaks and the people who build them have evolved to meet a changing world.  You will find much more context and technical detail by reading Harvey’s books.

Please feel free to add comments on this blog and on the SSTIKS Facebook page of your experience at SSTIKS this year.   For those who cannot make it, I encourage a visit Harvey’s website and of course, buy his new masterwork Kayaks of Alaska.


Kayaks available to paddle at SSTIKS 2016

Kayak 1.  Kobuk River Kayak


This is a replica of a canoe-form kayak from the mid 1940s, previously in the collections of the Jensen Arctic Museum, Monouth, Oregon. The original had been fiberglassed, though the catalog noted it had been canvas-covered originally. It measures 11’11” long and 27-1/2″ wide. The lines of this kayak are published in Kayaks of Alaska.

The Kobuk’s Inuit name means “big river”.  The Kobuk River the is still central to the lives of the native people who live there and use the river for transportation and sustenance. Though the  Kobuk people speak the Malemiut dialect of the coastal Inuit, their material culture is heavily influenced by non-Inuit Athabaskan and other native peoples reflecting the river’s role in bringing together people from around the region.

Kayak 2. Bristol Bay/Aglurmiut Kayak

Yupik frame

This replica measures 14’11-7/8″ long and is 29-5/8″ wide. The original was collected in 1885 by Charles Townsend and is presently in the U. S. National Museum of Natural History (catalog no. 398281). A survey of this kayak has been published in Adney & Chapelle’s The Bark Canoes and Skinboats of North America (figure 177), but Harvey’s replica is based on a conjectural restoration of the damaged original based on his own survey notes. (The drawing in A & C has the old USNM catalog no. of 76285). The lines of this kayak are published in Kayaks of Alaska.



The short tube on the kayak's foredeck is a sleeve for a mast.

The Aglurmiut People are part of the wider Yup’ik speakers on the Alaskan coast. The Yup’ik are an indigenous people of western, southwestern, and south-central Alaska and the Russian Far East.  The original inhabitants of Bristol Bay were, in fact, the Alutiiq people who were pushed out by Yup’ik invaders in the early 1800’s.

The Yup’ik used kayaks for seal hunting, fishing, and general transportation, and considered a kayak the owner’s most prized possession. Traditionally, it was the Yup’ik hunter’s most important tool and a symbol of manhood.  These kayaks consisted of 5-6 young seal skins stretched for the covering, with Yup’ik-style seams; a running stitch partially piercing the skin on top reinforced by an overlapping stitch and a grass insert.

Bristol Bay and the surrounding area remains an amazingly rich subsistence zone. Each summer, huge numbers of sockeye and other kinds of salmon swim up the river. Beluga whales and seals are commonly found in Bristol Bay, and caribou roam the interior hills.

A kayak from Cape Newenham as drawn by John Webber, artist with Captain Cook's third expedition 1776-1780.

  •  These kayaks were used for hunting marine mammals including seals, walruses & beluga whales, and fishing
  • Typically, they were paddled  kneeling and with a single blade
  • These kayaks are roomy and hunters could carry supplies inside and sometimes a sled lashed to the outside
  • When used on inland waterways, they were sometimes poled if the current was swift
  • These kayaks were rolled – so have fun!


Kayak 3. Labrador Kayak

Replica of the Musee de Beaux-Arts (Rennes, FR) kayak 1794.1.781. Prior to the transfer of this kayak to the Beaux-Arts, it had been in the private collection of Christophe-Paul de Robien (1698-1756). No collection information has accompanied the kayak, and it is very likely to be the oldest intact Canadian kayak in the world. The kayak measures 22’7″ long and 24-3/4″ wide.

Labrador Kayak



Kayak 4.East Greenland Kayak

This is a replica of the East Greenland kayak 59876 collected in 1970 by Dr. Gert Nooter. The original’s builder was Henrik Singhertek of Tiniteqilaaq. The kayak is relatively short for the type at 15’7-3/8″ long, and is 19-1/2″ inches wide. The original had protective sheet metal tacked around the bow to protect the kayak’s skin in icy seas. Usually, bone or ivory would be used for rub strips along the chines and keelson on this kayak type, but Singhertek used aluminum strips and hardwoods.

East Greenland kayak

“The mysterious East Greenland kayak, ultra low volume, fast, maneuverable.  Let’s be clear, there is not a lot of stability in a kayak of this type!  This kayak will spear through all but the smallest waves.  It will not roll as well as a West Greenland, yet, despite all this, it remains one of my favorite kayaks.  There is something so sweet about slicing it across flat water, silent, easy and intimate.   The East Greenland kayaks are just something you see and fall in love with, and that’s a good enough reason as any to build one.”

– Brian Schulz, Kayak Builder

Kayak 5. Upernavik West Greenland Kayak

Replica of an Upernavik Greenland Kayak from 1885. This replica is based on the U. S. National Museum of Natural History’s kayak 160325. The kayak measures 18’4-1/4″ long and 22-5/16″ wide.

Upernavik West Greenland Kayak

“Oh, how I love the 1931 [West Greenland Kayak]!  As a designer, I like the lightly aft trim, flat tail rocker, progressive bow rocker. As an artist, the perfect proportions and subtle recurving gunwales pull my eyes into the shape.  As a paddler, I appreciate the functional deck lines, protective keel strips, and snug but not crushing Greenland fit. It’s swift, maneuverable, and as good in the wind as a Greenland kayak gets. Surfing in heavy chop it spears into a following wave–you have to keep two steps ahead on the steering or it will broach and hunt, but that’s every Greenland kayak and this one seems to do better than most.   I build replica kayaks because they are pretty, because every traditional kayak I build teaches me about modern ones, because the Greenland hunting kayak imparts a sense of history, even if it’s not my history; and mostly, by simple virtue of proximity, the Greenland kayak conveys a powerful intimacy with the water.”

– Brian Schulz, Kayak Builder

Kayaks and kayaking remain an integral part of present day Greenland society. Qannatt Kattuffiat kayaking competition in Greenland

Kayak 6. Oqatsut West Greenland Kayak.

West Greenland Kayak, ca. 1919. Likely from Ilulissat/Nuussuaq Peninsula vicinity. This kayak replica is based on an example in the Greenland National Museum’s collections (KNK 1215). It had originally belonged to Peter Brøndlund, a seal-catcher from Northwest Greenland. The kayak measures 16’5″ long and is 20″ wide. The depth-to-sheer is 6″. The scale lines of this kayak have been published in “Kayaks of Greenland” 2006:302.

Oqatsut West Greenland Kayak from ca. 1919

Oqatsut West Greenland Kayak from ca. 1919


Present Day Illulissat


Kayak 7.  Inuhuit Polar Greenland Kayak. 

This replica is based on an example in the Greenland National Museum, catalog no. KNK 528. The original was built in the 1950s by Peter Jensen, of Qaanaaq. The kayak measures 16’2″ long by 20-3/4″ wide.

Inuhuit Kayak

Before the 1950s, Inuhuit kayaks typically had pieced ribs instead of bent ribs.  While this kayak is almost entirely nailed together, earlier Inuhuit kayaks had all of these joints lashed together. Around the 1950s, the Inuhuit began to use bent ribs in their kayaks, modeled after more southerly Greenland building techniques.


The Inuhuit, also known as Polar Eskimos, are the northernmost group of native people in Greenland and in fact the northernmost of any people in the world.

Kayak 8. Southern Iglulingmiut Kayak

Replica of the Horniman Museum’s 18.11.61.b. The original kayak is probably from mid 19th-century Iglulingmiut or Aivilingmiut.
The kayak measures 15’7-3/4″ long and 16-7/16″ wide.


This is one of the few kayaks in Harvey’s collection to be built with animal skin. In this case, five deer raw-hides.



Kayak 9. Mackenzie Delta Kayak.

Replica of the National Museum of the American Indian’s kayak 82723, collected by Donald Cadzow, ca. 1919. Length 16’1-1/2″, Width 19-1/4″.

Mackenzie Delta Frame

Mackenzie Delta Frame

The Inuvialuit, “the real people”, are Inuit people who live in the western Canadian Arctic region. They, like all other Inuit, are descendants of the Thule who migrated eastward from Alaska. Their homeland – the Inuvialuit Settlement Region – covers the Arctic Ocean coastline area from the Alaskan border, east through the Beaufort Sea and beyond the Amundsen Gulf, which includes some of the western Canadian Arctic Islands, as well as the inland community of Aklavik and part of the Yukon.

The Inuvialuit used their kayaks for beluga hunting, seal hunting, fishing, and trapping.  MacKenzie River Delta kayaks are a unique exception to the rule of kayaks north and east of Kotzebue Sound, having flat decks. This kayak type also has unusual vertical end horns, and a smooth hull shape formed of very broad and thin chines—these aspects may signify their own lineage or merge with bark canoes of the upper Mackenzie River, and perhaps roots with Yup’ik or Southern Iñupiaq pitched-deck kayaks.

By the early 1900’s wooden whaleboats had almost entirely replaced skin covered kayaks and umiaqs.

Eskimo [Inuvialuk] in a kayak’ with a whaleboat in the background, Fort McPherson, 1910. (Hon. F. Oliver, Canada. Dept. of Mines and Technical Surveys/ Library and Archives Canada/PA-019470

Eskimo [Inuvialuk] in a kayak’ with a whaleboat in the background, Fort McPherson, 1910. (Hon. F. Oliver, Canada. Dept. of Mines and Technical Surveys/ Library and Archives Canada/PA-019470 https://www.facebook.com/inuvialuithistory

Kayak 10. Point Barrow Kayak

This replica was based on the drawing in Adney & Chappelle’s The Bark Canoes and Skinboats of North America (1964:201, fig.187). It measures 17’3″ long, 18-1/2″ wide, and 7-3/4″ deep to sheer. Harvey originally built this kayak in 1998 but has recently rebuilt it to his own survey dimensions and details of the original. This included lengthening the kayak to 18’1.”  The original kayak is at the U.S. National Museum of Natural History– when Chapelle surveyed it the catalog number was 57773, but it has since been changed to 307211. The lines of this kayak are published in “Kayaks of Alaska.”

Point Barrow

Point Barrow is part of the Inupiat culture and language group. Like most other polar people, the Inupiat were subsistence hunters using their kayaks to hunt sea mammal and to fish.  Point Barrow is now one of the centers of the Alaska Oil industry.

Inupiat dance and party at Point Barrow c. 1935

Inupiat dance and party at Point Barrow c. 1935


Kayak 11.  Caribou Inuit Kayak.

This is a replica of a Harvaqtuurmiut kayak collected by the Fifth Thule Expedition in 1922 on the lower Kazan River. The original is preserved in the Danish National Museum (catalog number P.28.123). The kayak measures 18′ long and 15-1/8″ wide, with a depth to sheer of 8-5/16″.


The Harvaqtuurmiut are an inland Inuit people.  Their primary focus was the Barren-ground Caribou as they relied on it for subsistence and it determined where they built their homes. They specialized in hunting at autumn river-crossings.

This kayak, like other similar kayaks, is specialized for hunting caribou on lakes and rivers. The great length and extremely narrow hull give it great speed; caribou aren’t especially fast swimmers, but it was a matter of prestige to be the first to lance a caribou during the hunt. Thus, this kayak could very well be considered a ‘racing’ kayak. These long, slim and tippy kayaks can be a challenge for most recreational kayakers to paddle.

Netsilik hunter chases down a swimming caribou

Hunter chases down a swimming caribou


Inuit hunter use traditional tools in a collabarative project to tag narwhales in North Greenland

Inuit hunter uses traditional tools in a collabarative project to tag narwhales in North Greenland.


More on Harvey Golden

HarveyG-300x290Harvey has been building replicas of kayaks from the Arctic tradition since 1993. Having seen the remarkable variety of kayak forms in
The Bark Canoes and Skinboats of North America,” Harvey set out to build and use replicas of every type. In this pursuit, he realized that many more kayaks were still in museums around the world and that most had never been properly surveyed. In 1998, he set out to look at and document kayaks in Dutch, English, and Scottish museums, and this very quickly turned into the foundations for a large book Kayaks of Greenland (2006)

Harvey has surveyed well over 200 kayaks—some 400 years old, and others being sub-types or historically significant kayaks never studied before.  Golden lives and builds in Portland, Oregon and has recently opened the Lincoln Street Kayak & Canoe Museum featuring replica kayaks and canoes as well as models and original craft.

His new book, Kayaks of Alaska was published in 2016.



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