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Paddlers making the crossing to Santa Cruz Island aboard the reconstructed Tomol ‘Elye’wun, in 2006.

Tomols are plank-built boats, historically and currently used by the Chumash and Tongva Native Americans in the Santa Barbara and Los Angeles area. They were also called ti'aat by the Tongva. Tomols are 8–30 feet (2.4–9.1 m) long. They were especially important as both tribes relied on the sea for sustenance.


Tomols were preferably built out of redwood that had drifted down the coast. When supplies of redwood were lacking, local native pine was used. When splitting the wood the crafters would seek straight planks without knotholes, then sand them with sharkskin. To bind the wood together, small holes were drilled in the planks so they could be lashed to one another. Finally, the seams were caulked with 'yop', a mixture of hard tar and pine pitch melted and then boiled. Red paint and shell mosaics were often added as decorations.

Capabilities and use[edit]

Tomols were propelled with kayak-like paddles with the user in a crouching position, unlike kayaks where sitting is the norm. They were highly maneuverable. The Chumash and Tongva used them to paddle to the Channel Islands through long-established routes. They were so useful as to give rise to a new class, most notably shown in such guilds as the Brotherhood of the Tomol.


The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, and The Chumash Maritime Association of California house tomols built by later Chumash descendants.


  • Californian Indian Watercraft by Richard W Cunningham (ISBN 0-945092-01-6) 1989
  • Tomol: Chumash Watercraft as Described in the Ethnographic Notes of John P Harrington, 1978. This book lists 7 pages of references.