The full-size Oru Kayak folds up for easy portability.
By Anton Willis, Special to CNN
To me, boats are about great adventures. Being out on the water -- even near a city -- has a freedom and magic that’s hard to describe.
But when I first started work on the Oru Kayak, I had no idea how big of an adventure it would be.
Four years ago, I moved into a small San Francisco apartment, and had to put my kayak in storage. At the same time, I read a magazine article on new advances in the art and science of origami. This led to a question that soon became an obsession: what if a boat could fold up like a piece of paper? What if it could go wherever you wanted it to go?
I started folding paper models, and soon switched to full-scale plastic prototypes that I tested in the Bay and elsewhere. I built over twenty versions -- first in a friend’s garage, then at Tech Shop in San Francisco. Tech Shop was a revelation: Its tools allowed me to build far better and faster, and the community got me thinking about the future of the Oru Kayak.
I met entrepreneurs who had turned obsessions into livelihoods, and encouraged me to think more about getting the Oru Kayak out into the world.
With the help of a small but committed team, the Oru Kayak launched on Kickstarter late last year. It exceeded our wildest expectations. We raised enough money to launch the business, but even more exciting was learning more about our customers, including kayak commuters in New York, scientists in Alaska, explorers in the Amazon and many other people we’d love to join on a paddling trip.
We’re now about to go into full production. We’re manufacturing Oru Kayaks not in Asia but here in California -- something that we’re very proud of. We’re motivated by a shared vision of making the outdoors more accessible and connecting people to nature, even in urban areas.
Scaling up to build more than 500 kayaks in a few months certainly has its share of challenges. But it’s enormously exciting when a weekend passion becomes a grand adventure and takes you in directions you couldn’t have imagined.
My advice: Nurture your passions and let them turn into obsessions. Find a way to work on them that’s tangible and gives you joy, even if you don’t know where it’s all headed. And don’t be shy about sharing your story as you go along. You’ll find help and encouragement all over the place, and you may even find a new community, as I did with Tech Shop.
I'm now doing this with kayakers all over the globe. I’ve always been into making things, but building a community of enthusiastic supporters has been even more exciting than building a cool product.