Building skin-on-frame sea kayaks at Kew

by Ian Tokelove
Building a skin-on-kayak and Greenland paddle

Building a skin-on sea kayak and Greenland paddle

Adriana Eyzaguirre of Explora London describes building skin-on-frame sea kayaks with expert Kiliii Fish.

In November 2014, Explora London hosted a unique workshop building skin-on-frame kayaks at Kew Bridge. We had the pleasure of having kayak designer Kiliii Fish come from the Northwestern US. Kiliii is one of the foremost skin-on-frame kayak builders in the world so we knew we had something very exciting at hand.

A skin-on-frame kayak is a traditional style of building by northern indigenous peoples, the original kayakers. The earliest kayaks were built from driftwood found on the beach and covered in the skins of marine mammals. The appeal of these skeletal kayaks shows in the endurance and resurgence of skin-on-frame kayak technology in the sea kayaking world today.

Kiliii teaches the construction of ultralight (12kg) high-performance sea kayaks over eight days. The materials for the boats include cedar from Canada for the frames and modern ballistic nylon for the skins. We utilized various techniques acquired by the indigenous people of Greenland and the northern Pacific over thousands of years as well as innovations added by him to produce boats that fit the modern paddler.

During the workshop the students cut the wood to size, learn steam-bending techniques to shape ribs, do lashings to hold the frame together and sew the skins over the frames. Each student builds his or her own sea kayak and Greenland paddle. On the last day we paddled the boats on the Thames to give them a good test run on a strong spring tide.

With a limited number of places the workshop filled quickly. We had a great group of people coming from a few European countries. Students joined for different reasons; some were attracted by the idea of making and paddling their own boat whilst others enjoyed the design and crafts aspect of the workshop. Robin who designs and builds micro houses and furniture in Finland, came to familiarise himself with ancient crafts and is looking to apply some of the techniques he has learned on his furniture design. He’ll be using steam bending and lashing techniques on his next project. John is a dedicated and experienced sea paddler who is keen on Greenland style paddling. He was keen to participate in the workshop to build his own boat to get closer to the original Greenland experience.

All the students found there is much to learn and they are proud of their creations. We have received excellent feedback from all the participants and it has been a great pleasure to host the workshop.

Our next course will run in April 2015. For more information and bookings for 2015 please contact Adriana at

Pictures courtesy and copyright of Kiliii Fish.

Workshop space courtesy of Edge Kayak Club, Brentford Boating Arch, Kew Bridge.


Building skin-on-frame sea kayaks at Kew
Building skin-on-frame sea kayaks at Kew
Building skin-on-frame sea kayaks at Kew
Building skin-on-frame sea kayaks at Kew
Building skin-on-frame sea kayaks at Kew

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