When I graduated college nearly a decade ago and moved to Philadelphia, I wanted a city driver that would last. I bought a brand-new Toyota Corolla. Then I moved to California and Colorado for the majority of my twenties. I had shot myself in the foot when it came to my ability to indulge in an outdoor lifestyle — transporting outdoor toys like bikes and boats and skis. Despite living just a few miles from the beach in Santa Barbara, investing in something like a kayak seemed like more hassle than it was worth. Do I tie it to the roof? Do I tow it? Will it fit in my apartment? Should I just convince my friend to buy one? No doubt, all this musing ended in my not owning a boat.
Luckily, inflatable and “origami” (folding) kayaks have come a long way, offering city dwellers and small car owners like me a chance to own a watercraft. Although they didn’t invent the idea (folding kayaks have been around a long time), San Francisco-based Oru Kayak has been one of the most prolific producers of foldable kayaks the past few years, releasing multiple evolutions and styles since it launched in 2012 via Kickstarter funding. The main difference between Oru and its competitors is that instead of multiple pieces, Oru’s kayaks use one large piece of corrugated plastic that folds from a box into a boat. The latest release from Oru is its Beach model, a short, wide (12 feet long, 28 inches wide) and light (26 pounds) craft meant for beginners and casual users, meaning its design is focused more on comfort and ease of setup than it is on performance.
You can read all you want about how compact the Oru is, but it didn’t sink in for me until I fit it in the small trunk if my Corolla with room to spare. It’s about the size of a large suitcase. The directions claim that it takes about three to five minutes to set up, but I was skeptical: there were more than six pages of instructions, and there was a lot of folding to do, plus the installation of the seat and footrest. All told, my eyes going from the book to the boat, it took 15 minutes to set up the first time. But then, understanding what went where, it only took me five the second time. The process is very straightforward. Most of the challenge is folding down the bow and stern and locking them in place with plastic clips. Folding it up required the same learning curve, but ultimately, breaking it down and putting it away takes even less time than setting it up. After you unclip everything, you simply fold it once, then twist it on top of itself to form a small box.
Once assembled, the kayak was super light and easy to carry and lift over my head. There are consequences of this, of course. The Beach’s malleable, corrugated frame and plastic clips make it vulnerable to rough, windy conditions, which brings up questions of long-term durability (Oru gives only a one-year warranty). So, you wouldn’t want to use it in rocky shallows, for example, or handle it aggressively during transport. That said, when used appropriately, the Beach will do exactly what it’s designed to do: stow a backpack or small cooler behind its seat, and let you take it easy, explore or fish in protected waters. So, Corollas be damned. For small-car-driving casual kayakers, the Oru is as perfect a craft as there is.