Designer and Oru Kayak founder Anton Willis grew up in rural Mendocino County, with easy access to rivers, lakes, and the ocean. In 2008, a move into a small San Francisco apartment forced his fiberglass kayak into storage. Inspired by an article on new advances in the art and science of origami, Willis sketched a few ideas for a folding kayak. Sketches turned into countless paper models, and over 20 full-scale prototypes. After user-testing on dozens of bays, lakes, rivers and oceans, Oru Kayaks are ready to explore the world.
Willis, who studied architecture at UC Berkeley, spoke of his design process. “I like working with small paper models to begin with, hands-on, before I start getting into designing with software. My team worked on dozens of small paper prototypes before we got ready to ‘make it real’ over at TechShop. We worked with a number of traditional shop tools for fabricating in metal and plastic, and then we added in their ShopBot full-size gantry CNC in order to cut the floor board, as well as small plastic reinforcing parts..”
Anton said, “I found working with the ShopBot to be really useful. It allows me to iterate full-size prototypes very quickly. I continue to use it now to update some parts on the Oru Kayak and as I start to play with ideas for new products.”
The Oru Kayak began life as a Kickstarter project. Here’s their Kickstarter video, which sums up the concept for this unique product quite well… demonstrating how the origami design comes to life…
With their successful Kickstarter campaign behind them, Oru Kayaks are now being sold from their website. Anton noted that now that they are in full production mode, the company uses a number of outside contractors to make the kayaks. They are all based in either Northern or Southern California, and all but two small parts are sourced within the U.S.
“Finding a vendor for our corrugated plastic supplies was a challenge at first,” recalled Anton. The company we really wanted to work with, in Southern California, turned us down at first, as they only had experience making boxes from this material. Eventually we succeeded at partnering with them though.”
Anton Willis summed up the origami kayak project. “At Oru Kayak, we believe that spending time outdoors makes people happier, healthier, and more productive. Our products offer a way to explore and connect with the natural world—even when you live in a city. We hope your Oru Kayak journeys are as fun and fulfilling as ours have been.”