January 31st, 2013
07:44 PM ET

The origami-inspired folding kayak

The full-size Oru Kayak folds up for easy portability.

By Anton Willis, Special to CNN

To me, boats are about great adventures. Being out on the water - even near a city - has a freedom and magic that’s hard to describe.

But when I first started work on the Oru Kayak, I had no idea how big of an adventure it would be.

Four years ago, I moved into a small San Francisco apartment, and had to put my kayak in storage. At the same time, I read a magazine article on new advances in the art and science of origami. This led to a question that soon became an obsession: what if a boat could fold up like a piece of paper? What if it could go wherever you wanted it to go?

I started folding paper models, and soon switched to full-scale plastic prototypes that I tested in the Bay and elsewhere. I built over twenty versions - first in a friend’s garage, then at Tech Shop in San Francisco. Tech Shop was a revelation: Its tools allowed me to build far better and faster, and the community got me thinking about the future of the Oru Kayak.

I met entrepreneurs who had turned obsessions into livelihoods, and encouraged me to think more about getting the Oru Kayak out into the world.

With the help of a small but committed team, the Oru Kayak launched on Kickstarter late last year. It exceeded our wildest expectations. We raised enough money to launch the business, but even more exciting was learning more about our customers, including kayak commuters in New York, scientists in Alaska, explorers in the Amazon and many other people we’d love to join on a paddling trip.

We’re now about to go into full production. We’re manufacturing Oru Kayaks not in Asia but here in California - something that we’re very proud of. We’re motivated by a shared vision of making the outdoors more accessible and connecting people to nature, even in urban areas.

Scaling up to build more than 500 kayaks in a few months certainly has its share of challenges. But it’s enormously exciting when a weekend passion becomes a grand adventure and takes you in directions you couldn’t have imagined.

My advice: Nurture your passions and let them turn into obsessions. Find a way to work on them that’s tangible and gives you joy, even if you don’t know where it’s all headed. And don’t be shy about sharing your story as you go along. You’ll find help and encouragement all over the place, and you may even find a new community, as I did with Tech Shop.

I'm now doing this with kayakers all over the globe. I’ve always been into making things, but building a community of enthusiastic supporters has been even more exciting than building a cool product.

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soundoff (42 Responses)
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  2. Wilford Charriez

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    February 23, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Reply
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    February 3, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  7. popcorn


    February 2, 2013 at 12:48 am | Reply
  8. daeh ttub

    Brilliant inspiration, design, and perserverance to see it through from concept to actual production. Designed and made in the USA. If it's made out of recycled plastic, that would be the icing on the cake. I look forward to future design enhancements (combination Kevlar folding kayak?). Perhaps some add in flotation bags/compartments and (ugh) a sea sock for the paddler and you have an expedition kayak that you can check in at the airport. Better yet, an expedition can carry spare kayaks instead of those blasted fiberglass repair kits.

    February 2, 2013 at 12:03 am | Reply
  9. rr208

    Nice idea. At 25lbs it is lighter than the folboat. Folboats don't handle well.
    Hope it works out well.
    Look forward to updates on handling in choppy conditions.
    Folboats go for about $2,000, so if this sells for around $900 and is reasonably rugged it will be very popular

    February 1, 2013 at 10:33 pm | Reply
  10. mark

    Nice toy but certainly not worth $850 plus.....

    February 1, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Reply
    • bryan314

      Mark, for what it is, if it has any real durability (I'll reserve judgement for 3 years), it's a great deal! Just because you can get a $200 10 foot kayak-like-extrusion from Walmart doesn't mean a real kayak isn't still an expensive durable good. I know people who have spent $2k or more on portable 'yaks that take a lot more effort to assemble and weigh a LOT more than this. One friend's folding boat is JUST BARELY airline non-surcharged (under 50 lbs) if he removes two of the pieces and places them in another bag. In contrast, this thing could be checked complete with a 2 piece paddle a skirt and a PFD. I'm excited.

      February 2, 2013 at 2:23 am | Reply
  11. Keith

    Looks promising but I'd like to know how many time it can be folded and unfolded before it splits at the seams.

    February 1, 2013 at 7:39 pm | Reply
    • jfc1

      roughly the same number of times you can bang a conventional kayak against something hard before it springs a leak

      February 1, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      According to their website, "The origami skin is manufacturer-rated for 20,000 fold cycles without structural failure"

      February 1, 2013 at 10:47 pm | Reply
  12. OrganicManLives_N_anOraganicUNiverSE

    This my friends is what "UNcommon" thinking nets us. Bless those who think outside the box!

    February 1, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Reply
    • MRB

      What box...

      Thinking outside of the box – still puts part of you in the box. Consider thinking:

      What box...

      February 1, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Reply
  13. Wai Kin

    Kudos! Fantastic innovation using plastic materials for your boat! Cheers!

    February 1, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Reply
  14. Jetguido

    What's origami?

    February 1, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Reply
    • André

      U know, there's something called "wikipedia"...

      February 1, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Reply
    • iiidarkknightiii


      February 1, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Reply
    • Rick

      What's an education?

      February 1, 2013 at 11:02 pm | Reply
    • Jetguido

      I was kidding! Just trying to make some people laugh a little... Did it work?

      February 2, 2013 at 12:22 am | Reply
      • bryan314

        Ah, don't quit the day job Jet.

        February 2, 2013 at 2:18 am |
      • Jetguido


        February 3, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  15. are122

    Can a laid off guy with no money afford one?

    February 1, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Reply
    • Jon

      Drowning is still free.

      February 1, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Reply
      • bryan314

        Drowning is only free if you're successful. If you fail, many municipalities will charge you for a rescue.

        February 1, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
      • Pixelink

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        please quit your day job!

        February 22, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  16. Dave

    Really impressive, guy!!

    February 1, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Reply
  17. Jewel

    He's never heard of Folboat I guess.

    February 1, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Reply
    • Will

      This is much more clever solution then a boat that comes in 1-2 bags where you assemble a skeleton then put a wrap around it...

      February 1, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Reply
    • rich

      A Folboat with 25 pieces is not even comparable ....I guess.

      February 1, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Reply
    • Wolfried Mielert

      And there is the age old German Faltboot (folding boat manufacured by Klepper) that my mom and dad had when I was 4 years old and I am now 75 years of age. Been there, done that 🙂

      February 1, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Reply
  18. rose

    I really wanted to hear that it folds up into a giant swan...
    ; }

    February 1, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Reply
    • Eddie

      That would be awesome! 🙂

      February 1, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Reply
    • jfc1

      a swan kayak...hm...

      February 1, 2013 at 9:23 pm | Reply

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