I admit it, when I first heard of this concept, I imagined something in the vein of the Redbull Flugtag. You know, some crazy guy makes a carboard boat, unfolds it on the dock, and plummets into the sea to great applause. Had this guy somehow succeeded and decided to market his miraculous idea? In fact, that was not the case at all! Oru Kayak, based out of San Francisco, California, turned a hugely successful Kickstarter Campaign into a viable business of producing light and durable origami kayaks, that fold down to something resembling an oversize suitcase. Being in a prime area for paddling, and residing in a townhome with no garage, and limited storage space, it seemed that Oru might bring harmony into our lives (we now own 2 of them). After putting our Oru Bay through the paces, here’s a look at what life is like when Japanese folding art meets outdoor adventure!
Oru Bay Specs at a Glance
- Type: Closed Deck
- Length: 12 foot
- Weight: 28 lbs
- Folded Dimensions: 12″ x 28″ x 33″ (approx)
- Rudder/Skeg: Nope and Nope
- Spray Skirt: Optional
- Max Load: 300 lbs
- Max User Height: 6′-3″
- MSRP: $1275 (original), $1599 (new “ST” model)
Where can you take an Oru Kayak?
To give you an idea of our background paddling, we were not avid paddlers prior to purchasing our Oru Kayaks, more like occasional paddlers when friends invited us out. We stick to the bays, lakes, and rivers sans whitewater. Although Oru does offer spray skirts for their kayaks, they can be rolled, and we have seen more experienced kayakers out in the ocean with them, we don’t head out anywhere that we’ll encounter surf. The boats have decent stability, but I think someone would have to be very comfortable with the idea that capsizing in surf and big swells is a real possibility, and being confident of one’s ability to recover in those conditions is key (goes without saying regardless of what kayak you’re paddling in).
As far as touring goes, the Bay is more of a day-use boat, but you can stretch it to a weekender depending on how efficient you are with your gear choices. On a recent trip with a friend, we were able to stowe fully loaded ~50L backpacks behind the seat, and some firewood in the bow of the boats. This means opening up the boats to get to some of that gear, which isn’t ideal, but it is what it is. Not really worth whining about when you get to spend a night out on a beautiful beach with some friends!
Oru Bay Kayak Review
The aim of this review is to give feedback from medium-term use, and to provide a lot of practical insight on what it’s like to own and use these boats. If you have any experience to share, please use our comment form at the bottom of the post!
We might as well start with assembly, since this is the big question mark, right? Right. When fully assembled these boats are very rigid and confidence inspiring. Getting from box to kayak takes a little effort of course. The short story is, it takes some practice. After a half dozen times, it should come pretty natural. The key is, order of operations!! Once you have the order down, your life of assembling origami kayaks will be so much better. Typically 15 minutes is all you need once you’ve got the steps mastered. My personal best is about 10 minutes. Here’s my take on it…
- Get your folded up boat to a space with some room to spread out, and preferably somewhere that you’ll be comfortable kneeling and working on the ground.
- Take off the shoulder strap and floorboard (orange colored top of the box)
- Open the kayak up into “V” position, loosen up the middle deck straps fore and aft.
- Start at either end, place the bulkhead into position then fold the deck into the general shape, securing just the middle deck strap that you loosened already
- Ensuring that the decking material is clean, and that your deck channel is clean, assemble the corresponding deck channel, then starting at the outermost end of whichever side your’re working on, start closing up the deck so both sides mate into the channel. It helps to have the straps pre-adjusted for the correct length. DO NOT pull on the straps to tighten after clipping them together, this will cause unnecessary wear on the attachment points of the clips to the boat.
- For now, leave the deck open nearest the cockpit.
- Repeat this process for the other end of the boat.
- Fold the floorboard into a “W” shape, and put it into the boat, snap both sides into the rim of the cockpit.
- With the deck still partially open at the front of the cockpit, move the cockpit rib in place so the screw on the far side lines up with the keyhole in the cockpit rib. Once it’s lined up, the force needed to close the cockpit should cause the rib to magically pop into place also. Sometimes multiple medium-effort downward pushes are better than simply putting a continuous downward force on the cockpit to close it. This might be the part that causes you the most grief, but once you get it, it’s really an “ah-ha!” moment.
- With the deck still partially open at the back of the cockpit, put the back of the seat in place, line up the screws with the keyholes in the seat, then bring the back of the cockpit together.
- Ensure all deck straps are secured, including the straps on bow and stern, then stretch the fairings up and clip them in.
- Put the seat cushion in place, secure the buckles for the seat back, adjust the footrest if needed, and secure and deck rigging that you may be using… then grab your PFD and paddle, and hit the water!
Ok, now that the anxiety of figuring out how the hell does that sorcery work?? has passed, we can move on. To begin with, these are impressively lightweight kayaks, at only 28 lbs! You can literally toss one of these kayaks into the trunk of your car. We can fit 2 of them in our Subaru Outback, along with some other misc gear (the boats eat up most of the space). Alternatively, you could set the boat(s) up at home, then transport them on a roof rack. This will also avoid most of the spectacle that takes place by strolling up to a busy beach, and proceeding to make a kayak appear out of thin air; yes, you get a lot of attention setting up an Oru boat. As for physically getting boats from point A to point B, you have the should strap to use, which is fine for short hikes, or the backpack (optional item from Oru) for getting into more remote locations. Of course, this is a major highlight; the ability to carry your boat out to someplace off the beaten path opens up all kinds of new options. We own one of the backpacks, but have not used it yet… something for a future update for sure!
On the Water
On the water, it’s clear right away that the boats are not as stable as a flat(ish) bottom boat, like a sea kayak, however they do have good initial stability, for whatever that’s worth. I add this remark only for folks who are more accustomed to recreational kayaks. These handle much more like touring kayaks, as one would hope and expect them to. On smooth water they feel great and track really nicely. I think the lack of weight works against you in chop and wind however. I don’t have enough experience to definitively make that statement, but call it a gut feel. When wind is against the beam, they definitely get blown around, and without a skeg, keeping your boat pointed straight really comes down to technique… I’m still honing mine. Overall the performance is good; it doesn’t feel as if there’s much trade-off of performance vs. design.
Comfort is okay. The seats leave something to be desired; don’t expect more than minimal padding and adjustability. The foot rest is adjustable, which also ensures you can get your knees into position. Deck rigging is limited (looks better on the 2017 models), and there’s no secure dry storage, so this means keeping your personals inside in a small dry bag somewhere. The bow and stern of the boat can also be used for storage and can be accessed by folding down the seat (or opening up the boat).
This is probably the other big question mark if you’re considering purchasing an Oru Kayak. To talk about durability we have to address two areas: (a) the hull of the boat, (b) the components. The hull is made of durable high density polyethylene; it will take a lot of abuse, which may leave scuffs, but getting a puncture will be really difficult. Some of the components are less durable though, so let’s get into that for a second…
- Fairings: There is a fairing at the bow and stern. They will wear and get ripped. Coming up hard on beaches, especially rocky shores will accelerate this process. Replacement runs about $70/pair. You might replace them once a year, or less often depending on how regularly you use your boat.
- Deck Clips: The clips that secure the deck-closure straps are a 2-piece design. The inner piece (inside the boat) can pull away from the outer, causing the clip to pop off. This problem can mostly be avoided by NOT pulling on the straps to tighten them while clipped. Getting the length adjusted, then clipping them is the way to go.
- Seam Channels: The deck closure is secured by plastic channels that the decking material mates into. Two of them are removable; this allows the boats to fold down the way they do. In the process of putting the rails on and off, grains of sand and dirt can raise little burrs on them, making it more difficult to get them on and off. This can be completely avoided by ensuring the rails are clean prior to assembling the boat. A quick wipe down with some water should be sufficient.
- Cockpit Rib: This is a piece that’s inside the boat. There’s a method to securing it, but it’s tempting to force it closed, which can lead to cracking it. This can be totally avoided by not taking any shortcuts and learning how to assemble your boat correctly!
You are looking at roughly a 1-foot, by 2-foot (tall) x 3-foot (wide) box. Got a closet? How about under the bed? We keep two of them behind our couch! This is probably the reason why you’re here, and yes, it’s as good as it sounds. They stowe away beautifully, even in smaller homes like ours. I spoke with a couple in Sausalito that keep a pair of Oru’s on their sailboat… rad.
Oru has created a unique experience with their kayaks, which by the way, are as beautiful to look at, as they are to use. That point should be at least mentioned once here! There is a trade off of course; you accept a little fiddle factor in return for a kayak that’s both lightweight, and easy to store when space is at a premium. There may be a small performance hit in the water with a lack of skeg in combination with a lightweight boat, but the point is that they get you on the water, in what otherwise feels like any other kayak. I would wager that experienced paddlers will be very happy with these boats. We are thrilled with ours, and the new possibilities for adventure that they’ve opened up to us! Hike It. Like It.