Folding Kayak Review: Oru Bay ST

Paddling Buyer’s Guide

Oru Kayak came to the world on Kickstarter about a decade ago with the primary objective of disrupting the usual definition of a kayak. Moonlighting on their day jobs in the Silicon Valley, the brand’s cofounders Anton Mills and Ardy Sobhani conceived a recreational kayak that could be assembled and disassembled quickly like origami and stored flat, about the size of a sofa cushion—perfect for apartment and condo dwellers on the West Coast.

They launched the brand on Kickstarter in 2013 with a modest request—and ended up receiving nearly $500,000 from backers. With that, Oru, the origami folding kayak, was born.

The Oru Kayak Bay ST represents far more refinement in comfort and paddling performance than the brand’s original offering. Described as “versatile, fast and sporty,” the 12’3” Oru Kayak Bay ST folding kayak bridges the gap between the recreational and day touring categories, offering the stability expected of a beginner boat yet also more nimbleness on the water, with enough space to pack supplies for a picnic. It is capable of handling wind and waves and moderate sea conditions in the hands of intermediate to advanced paddlers.

If you’re shopping the used market you may encounter a previous version of the Oru Bay kayak, known as the Oru Kayak Bay Plus. The specs of this discontinued model are identical to the current Oru Kayak Bay ST, with the main difference being the outfitting and ease of assembly.

For the purpose of this review we will focus on the current Oru Kayak Bay ST. If you’re looking for an Oru Kayak Bay Plus review, this article will provide a general overview of the boat’s performance and handling on the water.

On the water with the Oru Bay ST

Oru Bay ST Specs
Length: 12’3” / 3.73 m
Cockpit: 16” × 30” / 41 × 76 cm
Width: 26” / 11.8 cm
Weight: 50 lbs / 22.7 kg
Capacity: 300 lbs / 136 kg
Folded size: 33” x 14” x 29” /
84 × 36 × 74 cm
MSRP: $1,499 USD

Performance

A 12-foot kayak will never be described as fast, but the Oru Kayak Bay ST certainly feels nimble on the water. Credit the kayak’s remarkably lightweight, buoyant hull. At just 26 pounds the Bay ST floats like a leaf, accelerating quickly and responding instantly to paddle strokes. Such responsiveness is a revelation—especially for paddlers used to paddling heavier plastic recreational boats.

Perhaps the Oru Kayak Bay ST’s greatest strength on the water is outstanding maneuverability—the Bay ST can be turned instantly and becomes even more responsive as you develop more efficient paddling skills. At the same time, quick acceleration makes the Bay ST feel speedy.

Tracking—that is, the kayak’s tendency to move in a straight line, which generally improves in longer boats—is good for a 12-footer, but you need to pay attention to making your paddle strokes symmetrical on either side of the boat to keep it moving forward efficiently.

Such lightweight construction means the Oru Bay ST can feel skittish for beginners. Its corrugated plastic hull floats higher on the water than other recreational kayaks, creating a sense of tippiness for some paddlers (especially those near the kayak’s upper weight limit of 300 pounds).

However, that tippiness is largely a false sensation; the Oru Kayak Bay ST stability is enhanced by a 25-inch width and a flat bottom hull shape, both of which contribute to comfort on the water for beginners and larger paddlers. Just don’t expect the barge-like feel of a cheap (and heavy) recreational kayak.

Market and demographics

Oru Kayak markets its folding boats to outdoorsy people who live in cramped, urban spaces, as well as travelers who want a kayak that is easy to bring along on multi-sport adventures. The Bay ST model is a crossover model, with the good stability and compact specs of a recreational kayak and the increased performance (due to a longer length and slightly narrower width) of a day touring kayak.

It’s perfect for more athletic outdoor enthusiasts who want a kayak that performs better than a cheap rec boat and yet conforms (literally, by folding flat) to their urban lifestyle.

Comfort

Oru Kayak has come a long way in terms of paddler comfort since its inception nearly a decade ago. The Oru Kayak Bay ST lives up to its description as a kayak meant for intermediate to advanced paddlers, with comfort features this level of paddler comes to expect in day touring and sea kayaks. The Bay ST features a comfortable seat pad and an ergonomic and adjustable back rest that can be lowered so it doesn’t interfere with a sprayskirt.

About the Bay ST folding kayak

Design

Design features and details

The brilliance of the Oru folding kayak is the simple and intuitive way in which the kayak folds up to become its own storage box. Most folding kayaks emerge from their travel duffle like a bag of puzzle pieces. Where other folding kayaks employ a rigid frame that must be assembled in a similar fashion to tent poles and then slid into a flexible “skin”, the Oru Kayak offers a one-and-done solution. This means fewer parts to keep track of, and much simplified assembly.

A kayak that folds like origami has certain design limitations: namely, it must have some hard edges. But this was hardly a limitation for the designers at Oru Kayak. The Oru Kayak Bay ST folding kayak resembles a traditional Greenland kayak, with hard “chines” (that is, a distinct edge—or in this case, fold—where the bottom of the kayak meets the side). A similar fold establishes a slight V running down the center of the hull at the bow and stern—this is known as the “keel line”. Meanwhile, the middle of the boat is flatter in profile.

Hard chines and a pronounced keel line dictate the performance of the Oru Kayak Bay ST: when the paddler shifts their weight to tilt the kayak on edge, the chines create turning surfaces that increase maneuverability. But when sitting level on the water, the slight V in the keel line assists in holding a straight course.

Additionally, the flat panels contribute to reassuring stability, both when the kayak is sitting level (known as primary stability) and when it’s tilted on edge. This type of versatile performance is the hallmark of a more advanced, refined kayak design—which speaks volumes to the quality of the Oru Bay ST folding kayak.

Oru Kayak included several other design features that make the Bay ST perform like a hardshell kayak. Namely, the sturdy plastic coaming (cockpit rim), which is designed to accept a sprayskirt, and other features common on touring kayaks, such as an adjustable foot rest, deck bungees (which provide attachment points for maps and other deck gear) and perimeter decklines (which serve as “lifelines” for a swimmer in case of a capsize).

Furthermore, the Oru Bay ST features removable bulkheads, or walls in the kayak that create separate storage areas and impart stiffness to the hull, which makes it paddle more efficiently.

Material and construction

The heart of the Oru Kayak Bay ST is its unique construction. The hull and deck are made of 5 mm, double-layered corrugated plastic, with a built in UV treatment rated for 10 years. Like any plastic, this polypropylene material is strong and resistant to impacts, punctures and abrasions. The manufacturer has always insisted that it will also withstand up to 20,000 assemblies.

Design trends

Whereas many other folding kayak brands have disappeared in recent years, Oru Kayak remains a phenomenon—largely because of its creative branding and attractive price, but also because its kayaks are extremely lightweight, portable and remarkably easy to set up and take down. For these reasons, Oru Kayak has pioneered its own design trend.

Oru Bay ST outfitting and accessories

A wide range of accessories are available for the Oru folding kayaks, many of which are sold in packages with the kayak itself. For example, the Oru Bay ST Essentials package bundles the kayak with a paddle and backpack, while the Overnighter package adds dry bags and flotation bags.

One of the most popular accessories is an Oru Bay ST sprayskirt; a neoprene skirt is available (which is warm, dry and best for advanced users) as well as a lighter weight nylon skirt. Off-brand skirts will also fit the Oru Kayak Bay ST; for example, the boat accepts a widely available Seals sprayskirt in size 1.2.

Since the Oru Kayak Bay ST lacks watertight compartments, perhaps the best accessory you can add are flotation bags. These ensure that the kayak will float even when swamped, a critical feature if you plan to set off on more exposed shorelines or paddle in rougher water.

Warranty

Oru Kayak offers a one-year warranty on defects in material or workmanship. Additionally, Oru Kayak provides a 30-day “love your boat” guarantee, with simple returns during this time period.

Man paddling folding kayak on a lake
Photo: Virginia Marshall

Oru Bay assembly and setup

If you own an Oru Bay ST kayak, the first thing you’ll likely do when confronted with the sofa-cushion sized box is load up your web browser and type, “How do you assemble an Oru Bay ST kayak?” The process is remarkably easy and takes under 20 minutes on the first try (you can easily pare assembly time down to 10 minutes with practice).

The company provides a handy set-up video that makes the process a breeze. The brilliance and simplicity of the Oru folding kayak is that the box becomes the boat; this means fewer bits and pieces to keep track of, and no duffle or pack left over after assembly.

To summarize: open the box and remove all the parts; extend the box into a long sheet and insert the floor board, which stiffens the seating area of the hull and snaps into place at the cockpit coaming; tighten the end straps on each end of the kayak; insert bow and stern bulkheads into channels; buckle the tension strap in the cockpit; attach the bow deck zippers and close the front coaming latch; install backrest and seat; attach stern zipper and close the stern coaming latch; and finally adjust the seat, back rest and foot rests for comfort.

Oru Bay ST disassembly follows the reverse procedure.

Portability

Few kayaks offer the easy portability of the Oru Bay ST; the boat folds into a sturdy, sofa cushion-sized box for transport or storage. At 26 pounds, the Bay ST is comfortable to carry over your shoulder with the included strap for short distances. The weight is manageable for just about anyone, but the box’s 33” x 29” x 14” dimensions can make it a bit cumbersome.

Invest in Oru Kayak’s accessory backpack for longer carries, such as hike-in lakes, urban commutes or airport travel.

Storage

The Oru Kayak Bay ST folds into its own box for compact storage. To avoid mildew or other moisture damage, ensure the kayak is dry and clean before storing for extended periods. It’s a good idea to rinse the kayak with freshwater before folding for storage, especially after use in saltwater environments.

How it compares

The 2021 version of the Oru Kayak Bay ST is the third generation of this model. The original launched in 2014. Early editions used the same hull and folding pattern but had less refined comfort features. This section will compare how the Bay ST compares to other Oru Kayaks.

  • Oru Kayak Beach vs Bay

    Beginner paddlers and those looking for a more laid-back paddling experience may prefer the greater stability of the Oru Kayak Beach. This model is wider and therefore more stable. It also assembles faster with fewer additional parts (that, in turn, means fewer features which contribute to the greater comfort and paddling performance of the Oru Kayak Bay ST). The Oru Kayak Beach is a closed deck, sit-inside kayak with a larger cockpit than the Bay model, which makes it more appealing to larger paddlers and those who are nervous about sitting inside a closed-deck cockpit.

    Choose the Oru Kayak Bay ST folding kayak if you’re looking for an extremely portable kayak that’s speedy, efficient and and more closely resembles the handling of a high-performance touring kayak—it will offer you a better kayak to develop your paddling skills.

  • Oru Kayak Bay vs Bay+

    Each successive Oru Kayak Bay model added comfort, convenience and style features to the original. With the sporty Bay hull as the starting point, the now-discontinued Oru Kayak Bay+ model added an adjustable seat and a rear deck hatch (which has been removed from the current Bay ST model). The model was assembled with ratchet buckles to strengthen and speed up the building process.

    The most obvious difference of the Oru Kayak Bay+ was its flashy custom deck graphics, which do not appear on previous or current models of this kayak. When investing in a high-tech folding kayak, it’s important to recognize that just like a computer or smartphone, each successive iteration of the model will have definite improvements from the previous.

    The same is the case with the Oru Kayak Bay model. Buying the latest version of the kayak, that is the Bay ST, will provide access to the brand’s latest innovations. Of course, with its ingenious design team there are certain to be more improvements in the future.

  • Oru Bay vs Coast XT

    The Coast XT is significantly different from the Oru Kayak Bay. For the Bay, Oru designers stuck to the brand’s original 12-foot dimensions. The Oru Kayak Coast XT stretches out the length to 16 feet—a major addition to the waterline that makes this model paddle faster and glide better, as well as adding far more space inside the kayak for storage.

    Choose the Coast XT if kayak touring is your main objective. Packed carefully, this kayak can hold gear and supplies for a weeklong adventure. It also fits taller paddlers (up to 6’7”) and moves more efficiently on the water, so it’s great for fitness paddling.

    On the other hand, the Oru Kayak Bay ST is better for day touring, especially for paddlers who value ease of handling and maneuverability over speed. It’s far more compact on the water and somewhat easier to transport. For those who primarily take day trips, with perhaps the odd overnight, the Oru Kayak Bay ST is all the kayak you need.

Where to buy the Oru Bay ST

The majority of Oru Kayak owners buy their boats directly from the manufacturer. However, the kayaks have a limited number of dealers across North America at kayak specialty retailers, including Mountain Equipment Co-op stores in Canada.

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Oru Kayak

The Bay ST

With our newest iteration we've added a bunch of great features to the product that launched Oru Kayak — a closed-cockpit performance kayak that's sporty, versatile, and light. We've made it even more durable, with new aluminum cockpit latches and extra-reinforced strap anchor points. Its updated print pattern is all about going back to our origami roots. The Bay ST is built for a wide variety of water types and conditions and holds enough gear for overnight trips.
  • The Bay ST is our most versatile origami boat.
  • It can handle conditions from smooth lakes to ocean surf.
  • The closed cockpit can be used with a spray skirt for open water paddling.

Bay ST pros and cons

There’s a lot to like about the Oru Kayak Bay ST folding kayak, and some may argue this style of boat represents the future of kayaking—especially as the human population becomes more urban and moves away from personal vehicles to combat climate change.

Pros

  • Compact, folding kayak matches the lifestyle of the majority of North Americans
  • Sporty, comfortable and can be carried on the subway, while storing in a closet when not in use
  • Assembles fast and paddles like a “real” kayak (unlike other portable kayaks, such as inflatables)
  • More than a recreational kayak, but not quite a touring kayak—for a great many paddlers who might be looking for something in the middle, it’s a perfect fit

Cons

  • Lacks the extreme stability that beginners find reassuring
  • Doesn’t quite match the glide and performance of a longer boat
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