Qajaq, the Inuktitut root word for what we now spell ”kayak” translates roughly to “hunter’s craft.” For thousands of years, these boats have been tools used by Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic as tools to pursue whales, seals and other prey across the frigid waters and coastlines of the Arctic. Long, fast and silent, kayaks today are primarily used as pleasure craft, but ever since a massive wave of water-borne protests took place in 2004 in the Pacific, kayaktivism is fast becoming a symbol of a new kind of people power in the fight to stop runaway climate change.
Sitting in a kayak or a canoe, you’re about as close as a person can get to the water without being in it. In this seat, most of us feel somehow more connected to the water, and elements like the flow of a river or the changing of tides and weather take on new meaning. Both the power and the fragility of a body of water become clearer when we strike out onto it with little more than a paddle and a few centimeters of material between us and the depths. Looking up at a tanker, an oil refinery or a drilling rig, that fragility is magnified by the sheer scale of these megalithic instruments of fossil fuel industry expansion.