Seattle Artisan Harnesses Age-old Techniques To Make Kayaks

Central District-based craftsman Kiliii Yuyan teaches the art of boatbuilding at local workshops
  • You can build (or buy) your own seaworthy skin-on-frame kayak with the help of Kiliii Yuyan
WATER TIGHT: You can build (or buy) your own seaworthy skin-on-frame kayak with the help of Kiliii Yuyan

This article appears in print in the July 2019 issue. Click here to subscribe.

Kiliii Yuyan’s skin-on-frame kayaks may look like delicate works of art, but, as a descendant of the Nanai people, an indigenous group in Russia, Yuyan crafts these seaworthy vessels using centuries of information gleaned from his native heritage. The Central District–based craftsman passes this knowledge along at his nine-day boatbuilding workshops offered in Seattle and other locales, including the next one on Orcas Island (September 7–15, $2,100; Participants use locally sourced materials, such as western red cedar, and polyurethane-treated nylon (for the “skin”) to complete their ultralight boat (26–28 pounds, compared to plastic or fiberglass models, which can weigh between 50 and 90 pounds) and paddle.

However, if you’re itching to get out on the water right now, Yuyan’s business, Seawolf Kayak, does sell a range of ready-made kayaks. Yuyan, also an award-winning photographer and expedition guide who chronicles indigenous and Arctic conservation issues, says all of his work stresses “the importance of learning to be indigenous to land, not just to culture.”

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