Anchorage Co-op Combining Ancient Qayaq Design With Education

Image from the Kayak Co-op Kickstarter page.
Image from the Kayak Co-op Kickstarter page.

An Anchorage-based co-op is raising money to begin after-school training that combines ancient techniques of qayak design with education.

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Kayaks were invented by people of the north. Unangan, Supiat, Yup’ik, Inupiaq, and Inuit hunters used them to hunt seals and other marine mammals.

Co-founder David Karabelnikoff says the Qayaq Co-op was inspired by a movement in Southeast Alaska to revitalize canoe building and paddling, with the goal of encouraging youth to learn science, technology, engineering, and math.

“We’re blending the revitalization of traditional qayaq, and ikiak, and umiaq building with the modern technology of maker space, digital fabrication,” Karabelnikoff said. “So, that would look like LED scanners, laser scanners, laser cutters, CNC machines, 3-D printers and things of those type.”

Traditionally, every aspect of the qayaq was fitted to the owner’s body to make a watertight, stable yet maneuverable boat they could use in stormy Arctic waters. Karabelnikoff says the qayaq coop will replicate those techniques to manufacture custom-fitted kayaks. He says the project will preserve kayak design techniques and communicate the role of qayaqs in traditional life.

Image from the Kayak Co-op Kickstarter page.
Image from the Kayak Co-op Kickstarter page.

“It’s really something that both Alaska Natives can understand and get inspired by, but also that non-Native and folks that around the world will understand what we’re trying to do and the deep significance of the qayaq into the Inuit life, and what this cultural revitalization means for our people, and not just us but also for them,” Karabelnikoff said.

In Juneau on Tuesday, canoes were launched for an 8-day trip to Wrangell for the rededication of the Chief Shakes Clan House there. Karabelnikoff says the co-op’s project will teach youth how to create, build and paddle their own qayaq, and he’d like to see qayaq trips, races, and other activities become part of modern life – all with the goal of setting at-risk youth on a healthy path.

“I hope this project will help to solve the suicide epidemic that we have in the Alaska Native community and that Alaska Natives will be looked at in a positive light for the things that we have contributed to humanity, and the qayaq being one of those technological marvels that few other, and other people in the Arctic have developed but is really something that we can claim as our own and claim as something that makes us feel good, and the larger community respect our abilities and capabilities for what we’ve done,” Karabelnikoff said.

The co-op spells qayaq with q’s instead of k’s. It’s using the internet fundraising site, to launch the project.