Kiliii Fish Kayak Builder

Kiliii will be in London in July 2017 runing his next workshop. You can find more information here.

The workshop is one of those classes that we can truly call “Once in a lifetime” where participants come to learn the ancient art of building traditional skin-on-frame kayaks. In class we talk about kayak history, native history and paddling adventures. Our builders walk away with a functional piece of art: In our workshops, every builder completes an ultralight kayak and they also carve out their own Greenland paddle

Below is a Q&A with Kiliii.

From wilderness survival to boat building to photography, you have a fascinating background. What brought you to the where you are now?
The wilderness is a deep part of me. Both kayaking and photography have brought me closer to the wild, but it has been my time with indigenous peoples that has given me the best understanding of the magic of the world we live in.

You run skin-on-frame kayak building workshops all over the world. What is it about these traditional boats that grab people’s imagination?
Everybody’s immediately seized by the beauty and translucence of the boats and their wooden skeletons. You can immediately see the craftsmanship and artistry. Though ultimately, a boat serves a highly functional purpose: people love skin-on-frame kayaks because they are unbelievably light and they paddle as well as any kayak made of fiberglass or kevlar.

Do you think the traditions and skills of boat building are at risk of being lost?  
Absolutely. I’ve spent a fair amount of time around the original kayak-building cultures in the arctic, and the story is the same nearly everywhere--the skills of kayak-building were nearly lost before hobbyist builders revived them. A few surviving elders still have kayak-building knowledge as well, so the technology hasn’t been lost, but every day we lose valuable traditional skills forever.

After hundreds of boats built, how has the workshop evolved and what keeps you interested in teaching?
One thing I love about skin-on-frame kayaks is that they are relatively easy to design and prototype--I can build 10 iterations of a boat design in a year. While skin-on-frame boats are an ancient technology, they were not originally intended for modern interests like long-distance touring and surfing. Designing traditional boats for modern needs is the big challenge with each new prototype.

During the kayak workshops, my students get to play with some really magical woodworking. Unlike building fiberglass or plastic boats, we get to steam-bend wood, hand-cut and fit pieces, and problem-solve on the go. It’s infinitely more satisfying than sanding and epoxying.

You run skin-on-frame kayak building workshops all over the world. What is it about these traditional boats that grabs people’s imagination?
Everybody’s immediately seized by the beauty and translucence of the boats and their wooden skeletons. You can immediately see the craftsmanship and artistry. Though ultimately, a boat serves a highly functional purpose: people love skin-on-frame kayaks because they are unbelievably light and they paddle as well as any kayak made of fiberglass or kevlar.

What does someone gain from taking the workshop, as opposed to simply buying a new boat?
One of my students recently emailed me about a little excursion where he portaged his lightweight kayak into a little lake right in the heart of Helsinki along the edge of an old railroad line. It began to rain hard and he ducked underneath an old stone bridge and watched the rain come down in sheets around him. It was so beautiful that he thought about the entire cycle of nature he had undertaken that brought him to that moment, one of the most memorable moments of his life. I think that’s what you get when you create experiences for yourself--the things in your life start to have their own stories.

Who takes your workshops? What advice do you have for someone thinking about signing up?
There is no typical kayak-builder! I have a 13-year-old who built a boat, and her 12-year-old sister is doing one this year, out of sheer envy. I also have a 70 year old who built a boat and paddled it around the north coast of Vancouver Island despite his recent hip surgery. While a few students have woodworking experience, most are beginners and everyone is new to some tool or another. No matter the level of prior experience, building a kayak teaches you new skills and gives beginners the confidence to tackle other projects--after all, once you’ve built a boat, you can pretty much build anything else.

What boats could someone build at the workshop?

All of our sea kayak models undergo extensive R&D and are each designed with a particular set of needs in mind—from long excursions and fishing, to surfing and rock gardening. Along with our current models, we are prototyping two more in time for the Scotland workshop: a fast, playful 5-meter boat for intermediate and advanced paddlers and a shorter, manoeuvrable boat specifically designed for more petite paddlers.

Before the workshop, every builder chooses which model to build based on their own skill-level and interests. You can read more about our kayak models here.

At an average of 12 kilos, our boats weigh half as much as commercial plastic and fiber glass sea kayaks.