Meet the origami kayak that makes adventure easy

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Taking the Oru Kayak for a ride. Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac

I consider myself to be “the adventurous type” but I’ve never once kayaked, thanks to two big hurdles: I live in the desert, and I drive a tiny Fiat that barely fits four grown humans in its cramped interior.

Water activities in these parts of Arizona require a gas-guzzling truck and a garage big enough to store your boats, putting kayaking out of reach for most urban dwellers. Oru Kayak destroys both those necessities with a foldable boat that’s strong enough to take on a lake or river, while also compacting into a box small enough to fit in your closet.

Before the Oru Kayak glided into my life, my go-to outdoor activity was hiking. Point me to a waterfall 15 miles away in the desert and even if that AZ ‘dry heat’ was boiling the tar on the highway, I was totally there. Now that there’s a boat that fits in my car, everything’s changed.

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Assembling the Oru Kayak only takes 5 – 10 minutes. Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac

There’s something incredible about rolling up to a river in a tiny Fiat 500 and pulling a 12-foot kayak out of the back. It’s like a magic trick.

Few pieces of tech have wowed me this much since I picked up the first iPhone. It’s like instant adventure in a 26-pound box. Each time I’ve put the boat together a chorus of “Holy shit, this is amazing!” echoes through my frontal lobe as the single sheet of plastic folds into a kayak.

Oru Kayak is made out of corrugated plastic, the same stuff political lawn signs are made of, only its beefier and more durable. Everything you need to go from land to sea fits in the 33-inch by 29-inch carrying case that looks like an art portfolio, and it comes with a carrying strap so you can lug it comfortably from the parking lot to the water before assembly.

Assembling the kayak is ridiculously easy thanks to the origami-style folding. It compacts small enough to take it on the bus or train (or check it onto your next flight). Once you hit your destination, it takes about 5 to 10 minutes to go from box to fully assembled boat, depending on how adept you are at mastering all the folds.

I’m not an expert kayaker, so I can’t vouch for how well the Oru Kayak compares to non-folding options, but its speed is solid and it handles well on both lakes and gentle rivers. I didn’t take it out to the ocean or through any whitewater, but you can do pretty much anything in it you’d want to do in a regular kayak, including eskimo rolls.

The design of the kayak is striking, and each time I’ve assembled it crowds gathered to watch the magic show. Every fold and part has a purpose, with not a single square inch of superfluous plastic. Each part can be replaced quickly and cheaply. You can tell four years of deep thinking was poured into the beautiful vessel. The end result is a boat that transcends everything you thought you knew about hitting the open water.

At $1,200 a piece, the price is very attractive compared to competing collapsible kayaks that run closer to $4,000 a pop. With an estimated life span of 20,000 fold cycles, it will last just as long as rotomolded kayaks you have to tow around with a truck.

Adventurers looking to take Oru Kayak out for multiple days can stuff camping and fishing gear into the bow and stern storage compartments, and there’s an optional backpack carrying case if you want to haul it a few miles to your favorite spots.

Everything about Oru Kayak is both simple and magical. Hours I normally spend chasing waterfalls in the desert have been replaced with lake excursions, gliding though cool green waters hunting exclusive coves.

Having spent the better part of the afternoon paddling around Apache Lake, I slide up to the rocky shore, pull my boat out of the water, perform the magic trick in reverse order, and presto change-o, my kayak is back in my little car.

It’s as if everything I’ve been missing now folds into the back of my car. Can’t wait to paddle again.

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Paddling out on the Salt River. Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac