Difficult to say exactly but tradition of paddling is thousands years old. First people to build and use kayaks were inuit and aleut tribes in Greenland and Alaska. Kayaks were made by stretching animal skins over frames made of whalebone and whale- or seal-fat was used to waterproof the vessels. Kayaks were mostly meant for hunting sea-mammals but there were also larger boats (umiaqs) to carry entire family and their possession. Over thousands of years, nordic tribes improved their equipment and skills to survive the harsh environment of those areas. Europeans started paddling only in early 1800-s, after learning it from the inuits who were brought to Europe.
Qajaq [qɑˈjɑq] - kayak. Only real greenland kayaks are called so. Other kayaks are often called qajariaq, meaning “like a qajaq”
Paatit [pæ:tit] – paddle. Also called pautik
Norsaq [norsak] – harpoon throwing board/stick
Traditional paddles were quite different compared to the modern big-bladed paddles. There is reason to believe, that the first kayak paddles were with leaf-shape blades. Over the time, paddles developed differently in different areas. In Greenland kayaks were used for hunting seals. Their equipment had to be as silent as possible to get close enough to seals to throw harpoon. They hunted mostly alone and capsizing was quite common. Since most of the inuits couldn't swim, they had to master rolling skills and their equipment had to support this. Aleut hunters worked as a team and chased down their prey. That is why their paddles are longer and with different blade shape which allows to make more powerful strokes. And since they were working in a group, rolling was not so essential for them.
Today, most of the people think that all modern things are a priori better than old ones. Often it is true but in matter of paddles, the aspects what ancient inuits and aleuts expected are quite the same we appreciate today. Traditional paddles are: