Boating as a form of recreation has probably been enjoyed since man first traveled on water. Boating and yachting, using particularly the smaller crafts, for pleasure or sport, have been popular in many countries from ancient times. Though boating is most often engaged in as a pleasure for its own sake, it is also enjoyed as competitive sports.
Primitive people used floats and rafts to cross rivers and travel on lakes and seas. Later, canoes, the first true boats to be built by primitive men, were used. Any small vessel, with or without a deck that may be propelled by paddle, oar, sail or power can be called a boat. Canoes, catamarans, kayaks, yachts, etc. were built by mankind from pre-historic times. Big boats and small ships were later inventions.
Rowing was the principal method of propelling vessel in ancient times. Rowing is the manual propulsion of boats using oars as levers in a succession of strokes. Those who row boats with oars are called oarsmen. Rowing is usually an activity for pairs of oarsmen. Oar consists of a shaft of wood with a rounded handle at one end and a shaped blade at the other end.
In course of time, people started using various watercrafts for recreation. Canoeing began as a non-competitive recreation. Recreational canoeing includes paddling on local streams, and lakes for enjoyment and relaxation. Touring on canals, rivers, lakes and sea has been popular since ancient days. Boat racing also became popular in due course, in many countries. The first recorded boat racing in the world took place in 1300 at a Venitian regatta (Italian regala) that featured a gondola race. Since then boat races, have become very exciting sports events at several places like Oxford and Cambridge.
As far as boat races in Kerala are concerned, the competition element became the dominant feature only in modern times, especially after the beginning of the Nehru Trophy Boat Race in the Punnamada Lake near Alleppey (Alappuzha) at the southern extremity of the Vembanad Lake in 1952 when a special boat race was organized to entertain the then Prime Minister of India Nehru, who visited Kerala. Exhilarated by the exciting spectacular vision of long, slender, "snake" boats gliding past at very high speeds, to win the prize, the Prime Minister gifted a trophy to be awarded to the winning snake boat every year. Thus the Nehru Trophy Boat Race became as annual event, drawing local people as well as tourists to the lakeside galleries.
Before the beginning of boat races in Kerala, the snake boats and some other verities of exotic watercrafts were widely used for temple festival processions of deities and for welcoming kings and VIPs. Show and splendor was hallmark of such events.