Inspiration – Hawaiian Canoes

Water sports are as fundamental to Hawaii as are fish and chips and umbrellas to the Brits. Everywhere you look someone has a surf board tucked under their arm or a canoe strapped to their car. It’s in their blood, after all how do you think the Polynesians got here in the 11th century, a little clue, it wasn’t by amphibious monster truck.

For me, the most remarkable of all these water going craft are the jaw dropping, super sexy and sleek outrigger racing canoes. Their elongated form defy logic as they glide over the waves, they have an aerodynamic quality which instantly seduced me.

The canoe gods were shining on me as I was invited to visit Kamanu Composites, the biggest, cutting edge canoe makers in Hawaii. Tucked away in Kailua at the foot of the ko’olau mountain range on the east side of Oahu, I was welcomed by the extremely modest Keizo Gates, one of the 3 partners. Almost as impressive as the canoes is the success story of Kamanu, started in 2007 by 3 high school friends and an experienced canoe builder. Today the friendship is still strong and the company is going from strength to strength, with 16 employees.

20 feet long and only weighing 20 pounds these light weight carbon fibre beautifully finished one man racing canoes (named ‘Pueo’ – Hawaiian for owl) can reach speeds of 12mph. They are the Ferraris of the water, winning races and breaking records, they even have ’car like’ foot pedals which operate the rear rudder. Kamanu sponsors some of the best paddlers in Hawaii and the world, a clear sign that they believe in their goods, showing their racing pedigree.

My tour with Keizo took me to the different departments; mould laying up, curing and the finishing spray shop. He explained to me that on average they can finish one boat a day and that since they started they have hand built over 1500 examples. The materials may be ultra modern but there was still a great sense of tradition, the canoes clearly resemble their pioneering forefathers.


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