These days, inflatable kayaks and standup paddleboards are all the rage for their portability, stability and storability. We’re not sure about the popularity of innertubes, towables, tramps, pool floats and oversized pink flamingos, but inflatables are blowin’ up on the water and off. From the Assyrians to bubble gum, here’s the lowdown on things we like to pump up.
7 Things You Didn’t Know About Inflatables
1 Oh, The Humanity
Legend has it that Keith Moon, drummer for The Who, told guitarist Jimmy Page his idea for a band would “go down like a lead balloon.” Page changed “balloon” to “zeppelin” referring to the style as “heavy and light, combustibility and grace.” His manager changed the spelling of “lead” to “led” to ensure the name was pronounced correctly. Later, the von Zeppelin family threatened to sue Led Zeppelin over the Hindenburg album cover from their self-titled album.
2 Bombs Away
The first water balloon was made by accident. In 1950, Edgar Ellington attempted to make a waterproof rubber sock. To test his invention, he filled a prototype with water. When it started to leak, he threw it against a table in frustration. Eureka! Ellington called his invention the water grenade, but later softened it to water balloon.
3 Tie A Balloon On
Balloons are for more than birthday parties—they’ve been used to predict the weather, spy on the enemy and go fishing. Shore anglers tie a balloon to their line to catch the wind and drag the bait offshore.
4 Like A Greased Pig
Inflatable boats are nothing new. The first recorded inflatable boat goes back to 880 BC, when Assyrian troops used greased animal skins to cross a river. The Chinese also used inflatables during the Sung Dynasty (960–1269 AD) and Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD).
5 Blowing Bubbles
The most ubiquitous inflatable is not a boat, it’s bubble gum. People chew 100,000 tons of bubble gum each year. According to Guinness World Records 2022, the largest bubble ever blown was 23 inches across. By the way, if you swallow bubble gum, it won’t stick to your guts for seven years. Bubble gum can’t be digested, but it will pass through your system.
6 Bicep Inflation
In 1987, on Season 13 of the variety show Saturday Night Live, comedians Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon spoofed Arnold Schwarzenegger as the egocentric, Austrian bodybuilders Hans and Franz. The famous skit in which they “pumped you up” became a rallying call for the exploding body building culture.
7 Into The Deep
The famous scuba diver Jacques Cousteau was a fan of inflatables. In the 1950s, Cousteau’s friend, Alain Bombard, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in a rubber pontoon boat. Cousteau liked the shallow draft and stability, so he used inflatable boats for many exploratory dives.
This article was first published in Kayak Angler Issue 45. Subscribe to Kayak Angler and get the magazine delivered to your front door. Download the Kayak Angler Magazine+ app to seamlessly glide between the digital archives, the latest articles and videos.
What do kayaks, bubble gum and Led Zeppelin have in common? | Feature photo: Luisa/Pexels