Eight thousand miles away from home, high in the mountains of Timor, Indonesia I quietly told Andy Cochrane (Former Director of Marketing at Oru Kayak), “This is it. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
In the last five years, I’ve had amazing highs and unforgettable lows. At the center of this journey sits Oru Kayak. I have poured my heart and soul into this company and can still recall meeting my co-founders, our first conversations, and the starry-eyed dreams we had. We asked ourselves, “How can this product reshape the world?” On our road trips to trade shows and events (at the time, we couldn’t afford plane tickets), we would pontificate the future and how this team could really make an impact. We were completely obsessed with the “WHY”, and we were working so tirelessly, but damn, it felt good. Those coffee fueled days of blindly putting one foot in front of the other will be what I tell my kids about someday.
Then, reality set in.
We had to make Oru Kayak work. We hired people and they needed stability -- like real jobs with real hours and real pay. The WHY became HOW, and dreams became plans, shaped by reality rather than hope. With our feet back on the ground, we started hitting goals, crushing targets, and growing this little kayak company into a recognized brand, now known for innovation, creativity, and respected across the outdoor industry.
Personally, I had lost track of the WHY
We are fortunate to be members of the outdoor industry and to make a product that can easily take you from pavement to water in a matter of minutes. Time spent looking over the bow of a kayak can be more rewarding than any deal, decision, partnership or target, but when airports, spreadsheets, and handshakes dominate your life, it takes more than a rolling wave to remind you why you are doing this.
Oru Kayak had flown across the world to remote islands of Indonesia in efforts to support small villages with ecotourism. We had taken an entire Indonesian community paddling across a beautiful lake that they had blessed for our journey. As we unfolded our magical box to boat kayaks, their eyes illuminated with excitement. They loved the kayaks! This marked the first time they were able to paddle in the lake they’ve walked past their entire lives. For me, this moment wasn’t about the boats, but about what we could do with the platform and product we had created. Out of gratitude, we gifted the community the Oru Kayaks for their hospitality and inspiring efforts to share and preserve their land. We hope the community enjoys paddling, and uses the kayaks to build up their ecotourism by taking outside visitors paddling as part of their adventures in Timor, Indonesia.
Led by Andy Cochrane, Oru Kayak organized and funded a trip to Indonesia to explore the viability of remote regions on Sumba and Timor for outdoor recreation. Our Sales Manager, Ben Williams had a unique connection that lead us to Aleta Baun, known as Mama Aleta and her story would inspire our entire trip.
In a patriarchal society where women are housewives and mothers, not business-people or leaders, Mama Aleta stood out as the most well-respected person I have ever met. She was the leader, businesswoman and a force of nature in her village, called Mollo. When she spoke you listened. When she asked something, you did it. At the same time, her temperament was so collected, you felt at ease. Mama Aleta's story begins with mining companies extracting marble from the stunning hills of Timor.
When the most sacred of mountains, Naususu, was threatened, Mama Aleta decided to take action. Mollo indigenous people consider Naususu as the mother of stones, one that nurses the smaller stones in her surrounding, up to the highest area of Nenas and Nuapin villages. If Naususu – the mother – is cut off, she stops nursing the other stones. So, for three years, Mama Aleta and hundreds of Mollo women sat, day and night – occupying the mountainous ranges of Naususu and intimidating the miners. To sustain this long and stressful sit-in, Mama Aleta and hundreds of women weaved Ikat textiles to fund their peaceful demonstration. Ikat textiles are naturally dyed yarn, hand-woven to create beautiful patterned fabrics. Ultimately, they were able to intimidate the miners off their land and preserve what was left of their beautiful marble mountains. From this peaceful demonstration, Mama Aleta was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2013. Our contact had worked with Mama Aleta and informed us that their community was sustaining on humble farming and selling Ikat products. This sparked the idea that perhaps, paddling and climbing could provide income for the villages, and perhaps we could help lay the foundation.
Kayakers and climbers are well known for traveling great distances to enjoy the sports they love. Further, they come equipped with a skill set and equipment to happily exist in primitive campsites. This would allow the region to develop outdoor tourism at their own pace and not cause uncontrollable growth, like that seen in Thailand or Vietnam. We are in the midst of developing the future plans with Mama Aleta and the supporting NGOs, but with time, we will be returning to help establish the basic infrastructure. (Andy Cochrane will be spearheading these efforts outside of Oru Kayak.)
Most things in life are temporary, and that is what makes them beautiful. Though my time in Indonesia was only a few days and my time on the shore of that remote lake was only a few hours, the memories and inspiration of that moment will not soon fade. I hope this story helps the region and community we visited, and I hope it serves as a reminder to remember these types of moments in your life, and to never lose track of the WHY again. At Oru Kayak, we had to work hard to transition from WHY to HOW over the years, and it will take constant effort to create and maintain our WHY, but we will find the sweet spot and hopefully we will do some good along the way.