Kayaking is now an official Olympic competition sport. The name for this sea vessel is Inuit, and meaning 'hunting boat', which was its traditional use among the native peoples of Alaska, Canada and Greenland.
In the old days the frame was made from wood or whalebone, with animal skin (usually from seal) used for the shell, and waterproofed with seal blubber. Modern kayaks are usually made with fiberglass.
Kayaks are used for slalom and sprint racing in sport, the first demonstrating skill in manoevering the boat, whereas the second emphasizes speed.
Kayaking can be a dangerous sport on wild rivers as these boats can easily be overturned in rapids, with righting of the boat one of the skills focused on by kayakers, something accomplished both with use of the paddle and with one's body movements.
In addition to extra paddles (should one be swept away) and life preservers, practicioners of this sport need to be in very good shape generally, and very good swimmers in particular, with strong upper body development. Kayaks can get into places off bounds to larger crafts, and thus offer a special level of contact with nature, as well as excellent exercise and honing of one's instincts.
An inflatable single-person craft whose hull resembles that of a kayak is the monoraft, which capsizes less easily and is usually a group sport participated in by groups of around six accompanied by a trained guide. Special training is needed for shooting rapids in monorafts, with recommended trial runs in tamer rivers before going for the wild ones.
There are many rivers in Greece good for both kayaking and monorafting, including both tamer and wilderones, though none so wild as to be classified as potentially fatal.
The most difficult kayaking spot in Greece is a stretch of 48 kilometers (almost 30 miles) of rapids on the Aoos River in Ipiros, which begins at Anatoliko Zagori (Eastern Zagori) and finishing at the stone bridge of Konitsa. Another very challenging river is the Erymanthos.
Kayaking is considered to be best from October through May, given the heat of Greek summers, though some rivers are good all year for this sport.
One of the most fascinating rivers of Greece is the Aliakmon of Macedonia, which flows through much of this largest of Greek regions (in northern mainland Greece), with is headwaters in the Mt. Grammos range near the Albanian border, and flowing all the way to the Thermaikos Gulf (also called the Gulf of Thessaloniki), in a total length of 310 kilometers (192 miles), though it has many large tributaries. One of these-the Venetikos, in the Grevena area-- is a good beginning river, with a six kilometer course (3.72 miles) that takes approximately two and a half hours, beginning west of Deskati near the Palouria bridge, and ending near the Zavorda monastery. Both nature and culture are very rich along the Aliakmon, with beautiful forest vegetation that includes Balkan, Alpine and Mediterranean species, nesting river birds and ancient saints' retreats and monasteries.
Two more known courses, for more advanced kayakers, are situated on the main Aliakmon River, with information about these local available from tourist agencies oriented towards outdoor activities.
The entire Grevena area is very beautiful, and well worth visiting on land as well as river. The villages near Mt. Orliakas along the Venetikos River, are especially beautiful, with old stone houses and buildings well integrated into the surrounding forest.
The old stone bridges, built during Ottoman times, are especially worth seeking out, both for their exceptional beauty and craftsmanship as well as their brilliant engineering, especially where they span gorges and deep river valleys.
These bridges were used for merchant caravans in the days when there was extensive commerce in the northern Pindos range, with wool, hides, furs, and dairy products transported to huge fairs by mule trains.
The Kozani region a little to the east of Grevena is also fascinating, with a fine botanical museum in the town of Siatista (with collections of both flora and fauna). The old fur-trading town of Kastoria, built on a large lake, is considered by some the most beautiful city in Greece.