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Making an Oru Kayak - How our Foldable Recreational Kayak is Made

Did you know that the word “manufacture” literally means “made by hand”? It’s a strange irony.

Did you know that the word “manufacture” literally means “made by hand”? It’s a strange irony. In most people’s minds, “manufacture” conjures up images of fancy equipment and automated lines pumping out identical widgets.

Here at Oru, we know that the truth is somewhere in the middle. We use some impressively large, fast and noisy machines to make our kayaks. But there is also a surprising amount of human touch, care, and craftsmanship that goes into every kayak we make. Depending on the model, our boats take between 6 and 12 hours of hand labor to build, assemble, check and pack. Read on for a few highlights of our process!

This is the first and biggest part of every kayak: the corrugated plastic skin, which is die cut out (think of a cookie cutter) and screen printed with color graphics ( the same way as a T-shirt you may be wearing). This phase uses huge, fancy machines- but they still take a lot of manual setup and troubleshooting. Ink has to be mixed to exactly match our colors. Prints need to be registered so they’re centered and don’t hit fold lines. Fidel, a master tinkerer and sparetime car mechanic, is in charge of this step.

So when a kayak skin comes out of die cutting and printing, it’s ready to build? Well...no. We use an ultra-tough grade of corrugated plastic which is very hard to fold. To make sure all the folds break on all the lines (and don’t kink along the corrugations), they need to be pre-folded by hand. This is a job that requires both physical strength, a careful hand, and high attention to detail- in our experience, it’s the hardest job in the factory to get right. Luckily, Wilfrid is a master at it, and brings a calm and unflappable attitude.

The Oru design team sometimes jokes that most of our work is designing straps. The folding skins get all the glory, but all the straps are what really make our products function. Maria leads our sewing department, with several sewing machines and operators. All of our straps (and fabric parts) are hand sewn and assembled, with strict controls for strength and tolerances.

There are many steps to building a full kayak, and each boat will pass through several different stations. Dozens of straps, screws, bolts and other parts are fastened on- all by hand. Between stations, workers inspect each boat for quality. To make sure that everything runs smoothly, our line lead Nancy keeps a constant eye on the action. It’s her job to keep boats moving, and the assemblers happy- she excels at this due to her warm personality. She’s also married to Wilfrid- a true power couple.

This is maybe the most important job of all! Nathanael is in charge of making sure that all of our boats meet our quality standards. He assembles each boat to completion, just like a customer would, and looks for any blemishes, errant folds, loose screws, and other defects. 2-3% of our kayaks don’t meet our standards, and become factory firsts to sell at a discount.

We’ve been especially appreciative of everyone as the factory’s started back up from the spring COVID-19 shutdown- and we’re working with the factory management team to ensure high health, safety and cleanliness standards to keep everyone healthy. 

We’ve singled out a few of our factory team for recognition, but it’s a true team effort- making Oru kayaks takes careful attention and care from everyone. 

Thanks to everyone on our amazing factory team in Mexico!