A Brief History of Lake Chelan Watersports

Though you might not know it from a look at their sleek, highly engineered exteriors and cutting-edge composite construction materials, many of the devices and watercraft we rent, sell and maintain here at Chelan Parasail & Watersports have deep roots in native cultures from all around the world. Let’s take a brief survey of some of these fascinating craft; we bet you’ll be surprised how far back into history these crafts reach!

Lake Chelan Watersports


A symbol of the Pacific Northwest (and other regions of the north), the name of this streamlined, hydrodynamic watercraft derives from the language of Greenland, which gave it the name qajaq. The earliest known examples were made of seal or other animal skins stitched together over a frame of wood or whale bones, depending on what construction materials were close at hand. Kayaks are believed to have been used for at least the last 4,000 years; the oldest surviving example dates from 1577.

Today, kayaks are typically made of highly engineered materials such as Kevlar, carbon fiber or PVC. Come rent one of ours for a truly historic perspective of the lake!

Paddle Boards

These simple little watercraft have exploded in popularity over the last 20 years or so. While they combine elements of surfboards and kayaks, they’re in a class by themselves. Paddle boards are easy to learn and use, and capable of quite decent speeds when piloted by a strong and committed paddler.

As with kayaks, it’s tempting to imagine that paddle boards are a modern-day invention, but that’s not entirely accurate. A 1781 engraving by John Webber, the ship’s artist who accompanied Captain James Cook on his Pacific voyage of 1778, clearly shows a paddle boarder or surf rider in the lower left.

More recently, paddle boarding in the United States can be traced to one Thomas Edward Blake, who built replicas of ancient Hawaiian boards back in the 1920s. Gradually streamlining and improving the design, Blake more or less single-handedly popularized this style of wave riding. A resurgence in popularity in the 1980s cemented the paddleboard’s place in the watersports pantheon. Today, they’re more popular than ever, especially on beautiful Lake Chelan. And, yes, before you have a chance to ask – we rent paddle boards too!


Another modern-looking waterborne funmaker, wakeboards—originally known as “skurfs” for their combination of water skiing and surfing elements—have been around since the 1970s. Like so many of the devices we use for fun out on the water, the first examples were hand-carved from wood down in Australia and New Zealand.

Though they caught on in a big way with the sporting/exhibition community in the 1980s through early stars like Tony Finn and Howard Jacobs, the introduction of modern, lightweight materials like carbon fiber and foam made wakeboards accessible to the general public.

If you haven’t gotten out on one yet, don’t wait! Wakeboards are a lot of fun during these last hot days of summer. And, you guessed it: we’ve got them. Come on by and try one for yourself!

We hope this has shed an interesting light on your favorite Lake Chelan watersport. What’s your favorite watersport and why?