TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Steve Carrigg, of Tigard, has a passion for boating. He has been carving - and weaving - his own canoes, kayaks and Irish coracles out of local materials for years. When Steve Carrigg was a child, he dreamed of rowing across the lake that sprang up on his family’s property every winter.

Back then, he didn’t have a boat. But now he does. Lots of them.

Carrigg has spent the better part of a decade perfecting the art of building wooden boats in his Tigard backyard.

He operates Hazelwood Boats, building kayaks, canoes and other types of vessels using local materials.

Carrigg is hard at work on his latest project, a canoe he’s building by hand.

It’s a long process. Carrigg estimates it’ll be a month before it’s finished. But he also knows it’s worth it.

“It’s really from scratch,” he said. “It’s hands on. You have to steam and bend the ribs and cover it in fabric.”

Today, the boat is almost unrecognizable, except for a long piece of wood that will become the boat’s spine.

When it’s finished, Carrigg will donate it to Open Road Learning Community For Teens, a local alternative education program he works with. The boat will then be sold at auction to raise money for the school.

Carrigg has made dozens of boats over the years. His boats hang from his garage, are stacked on the side of his home and rest behind tall hedges in his backyard.

“I’m running out of space,” he said, looking over his creations. “I have to hide them wherever I can.”

Carrigg is also a recycler. A flower box in his yard has the tell-tale shape of one of his boats.

“That’s from an early boat. I needed a planter, and it was here,” he says.

On the walls of his home, Carrigg has some of his best work on display. A framed portrait of a 9-foot-long Irish fishing boat he built lines one wall.

Carrigg’s unusual hobby began about a decade ago when he was in the market for a kayak to take out on the river.

“I liked the idea of a kayak, but the ones in my price range were all plastic,” Carrigg said. “So I thought about maybe building one myself.”

His first boat he built came from a kit, and from there, he was hooked.

“From that boat, I built a skin-on-frame kayak,” he said. Then came an Irish coracle, then a canoe.

Carrigg said that once he made one boat, he couldn’t stop.

“I made a bunch of these to talk people into going out onto the river with me,” he said.

The hobby has become an art form to Carrigg. He tackles each project like an artist, hoping to say something through the medium with each piece.

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Steve Carrigg uses Old World methods to build his boats, steaming his wood slats to bend them into shape.A few of Carrigg’s pieces are on display in The Lincoln Street Kayak & Canoe Museum in Portland, which showcases boats from all over the world.

And Carrigg doesn’t just build boats, he hits the water in them at least a couple days each week during the summer to paddle and enjoy nature.

“I can’t go back now,” he said. “There’s no way I’d buy a boat. It’s so much more fun to make them. They are so light and durable and they work so well — I couldn’t go back.”

Many of Carrigg’s boats are woven with branches from local hazel trees, trees that have long played big roles in Oregon. Indeed, most of the world’s hazelnuts come from the Willamette Valley, and Tigard was once the headquarters of the Hazelnut Industry Office.

Tigard even considered building two large filbert statues on Main Street in 2013.

“I go to my neighbors and ask for them,” he said. “When you build boats like I do, you can spot good hazel driving down the road.”

While Carrigg has built plenty of kayaks and canoes, his passions lie with his Irish heritage and the small fishing boats the Irish have used for centuries.

Called a coracle, the boats may look a bit out of place in Oregon, where you are more likely to see florescent kayaks. But coracles — round and paddled from the front — have been made for thousands of years in Ireland. Currachs, their larger cousins, are longer and more akin to a canoe.

“They are really fun on fast water,” Carrigg said. “It can carry you right downstream.”

Currachs and coracles have been made the same way for centuries, Carrigg said, and he connects with that long history.

“The old methods are really good,” he said.

It’s that tradition he hopes to teach to a new generation.

This summer, Carrigg is working with Tualatin Riverkeepers during their summer camps.

Carrigg will help campers collect materials from the Riverkeepers’ education sites to create a 14-foot-long woven boat that students will sail at the end of the camp.

And that’s just the start of his summer. He also plans to participate in Paddle Oregon, an 85-mile canoe and kayak trip along the Willamette River.

“I’ll be part of the entertainment. I’ll drive to their campsites and bring a boat to work on and build a boat each night. If I can get it done by the end of the trip, that’s great,” he said.

Later this summer, Carrigg is planning a trip to Ireland, to see some of the ancient places where boats like his were made.

“I don’t know how much of Ireland I’ll see, but I’ll see the boats, for sure,” he said.

By Geoff Pursinger
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