Determining a useful boundary between what has historically been deemed a kayak rather than a decked, double-paddle canoe is something of a messy task and won’t be the goal of this short piece. Suffice it to say that, 150 years ago, the kayak was pretty much a boat made by and paddled almost exclusively by the Inuit. Meanwhile, the popularity of canoeing in the late nineteenth-century had caused the development of umpteen patented methods of shaping wood into the complex, curved forms required for a canoe (whether open or decked). Outside of its original Arctic context, efforts at commercial kayak construction continued to experiment well within sight its Inuit root, relying upon a waterproof skin stretched tight by an internal frame even well into the 20th century.
I find it very interesting that even the earliest commercial efforts at manufacturing kayaks adopted the principles of a collapsible design into their construction. Perhaps it was something about independence of the skin and the frame that encouraged this principle back then and which continues to the present. German inventor Johannes Klepper introduced his first folding model in 1906; just one year after another inventor had secured the first patent for a folding kayak. “Kleppers” continue to be made to this day.
The Canadian Canoe Museum has been slowly growing its fleet of collapsible kayaks for its collection as it explores this tradition and, earlier this year, our Collections Committee acquired a charming 10’6” Granta, made in the U.K. in 1932. Manufacturers also represented are/were based in Germany, the U.K., the United States and even Russia (we have not yet acquired one of Canadian-made Feathercraft’s elegant little boats)
If you haven’t already come across it, it is my delight to introduce you to an enchanting and innovative response to the challenges of a knockdown kayak. The tale reads something like a short story: young architectural student/paddler moves to big city/small apartment, forcing him to move his kayak into storage. Frustrated, fuelled by a desire to break through the constraints of urban paddling and also inspired by new applications for Origami, the concept for the “Oru” folding kayak is born.
One year ago, the company got a well-deserved start on Kickstarter with a 4-week goal to raise $80k. It managed to raise nearly a half–million in that month and Oru, now a three-person team, seems to be in production and reaching market well. We’ll certainly follow this story over the months to come and I, for one, am keen to try one out.