Shortly after its release in 2003, the Napali foldable kayak became part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Today, manufacturers are still trying to find innovative, design-forward ways to give adventurers more functional models to take out on the water, including the folding Oru and a few others new to the scene. But a decade later, the Napali remains a classic: the first transparent, foldable kayak, according to the company, and still the only one of its kind.
Weighing in at just 26 pounds, it unfolds to 13 feet and measures 22 inches wide at its midpoint. The corrosion-resistant carbon Kevlar frame and clear, polyurethane skin offer remarkable strength for its weight and a smooth ride once out on the water. While its transparency catches your eye, it remains the more remarkable because of its portability.
“It fits into a small bag so users can store it, fly it, and explore with it anywhere in the world,” says designer Dr. Murray Broom, a biochemist from New Zealand. Assembly time, once you know your way around the kit, takes just 20 minutes.
After Dr. Broom designed and built a racing catamaran, he set out to create his own portable folding kayak. In 2003, he started Firstlight Kayaks in his native New Zealand with the result: the Firstlight 420. “It was a very techy kayak,” he says, “and the lightest of all the folders by far. The 420 is still the lightest folding kayak for its size.”
Dr. Broom’s 420, at under 20 pounds, was designed to be backpackable, but still offer a solid ride. You can easily transport it to a favorite lake or beach, check it as baggage to any dream destination, or even hike with it to a remote locale, yet still get an outstanding ride once you assemble it. Made primarily for light touring and recreational paddling, it has a relatively high deck around the cockpit, shedding water efficiently and providing easier entry and exit.
The transparent Napali, according to Dr. Broom, “is simply the Firstlight 420 build with a clear polyurethane lower skin and clear PVC upper skin.” It’s slightly heavier, due to the material for the deck. But even for a little added weight, you start to see kayaking in a whole new way. [$6,350; clearbluehawaii.com]