Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

These American Made kayaks emphasize portability, performance, and durability.

When Anton Willis moved into a small apartment in San Francisco, his fiberglass kayak went into storage, and Willis got to work on designs for a boat he could literally store in his bedroom closet. He looked to a childhood passion, origami, for inspiration.

Enter a new take on an ancient design: American-made Oru Kayaks.

Willis began making his boats in his friend’s garage using corrugated plastic sheets from a sign shop. He later joined a San Francisco-based prototyping shop, Tech Shop, to utilize their machinery and tools to better manufacture the kayaks.

Today, Oru uses only a single layer of double-layered, recyclable plastic for its kayaks. The entire boat only weighs 26 pounds, half the weight of a comparable plastic or fiberglass boat.

Now, after two Kickstarter campaigns, a deal made on Shark Tank, and thousands of sales, Oru Kayaks is redefining the outdoor kayaking industry. They have been featured by Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Popular Science, CNN, Bloomberg, and many other well-known outlets. They sell in shops across the country, through REI and Backcountry.

These Made in America boats are manufactured in California and sell for roughly the same price as other comparable plastic or fiberglass boats. The company boasts that Oru’s can go from box to boat in 10 minutes or less.

“When we first launched Oru Kayak,” said CEO Ardy Sobhani, “we were offered an opportunity to produce overseas, but we made a choice to manufacture locally because we didn't know what we were doing in the beginning and wanted to be more hands-on with the entire process.

“Additionally, this way you get to personally know the people working on our products. Developing this relationship has been key.”

Oru currently offers four different kayaks for sale, The Bay, The Bay+, The Coast, and The Coast+. While all of them have similar features, they emphasize certain helpful qualities for different adventures. For example, The Coast is designed to go much faster than the other designs, while The Coast+ is better for longer trips with more storage space. This website also offers the ability to rent an Oru for a week at a time here.

Oru COO Roberto Gutierrez, a former professional paddler, tested the kayaks in rough conditions including white water, ice, and big ocean waves. His official seal of approval attests to the durability and performance offered by Oru Kayaks.

“When we first launched Oru Kayak we were offered an opportunity to produce overseas, but we made a choice to manufacture locally" -Ardy Sobhani, CEO Oru Kayaks

While there are other collapsible boats out there, they are often thousands of dollars more, much heavier and much harder to put together. Oru’s seams are completely water tight and the material can last through 20,000 fold cycles until it starts to wear down. That’s a lot of trips downstream.

When asked to identify the best thing about still manufacturing in California, Sobhani cited speed, which can make or break a business.

“The responsiveness,” he said. “The fact that we can make new products and improvements to our current line very rapidly. It's pricier, but it's also less risky because you have more control over the quality of what is being manufactured.”