By Ava Wilkinson
A Pueo parliament is imminent. Parliament as in gathering, Pueo as in OC-1, or one-man outrigger canoe, crafted by Kamanu Composites.
“The faster you go, the more fun paddling gets. So really, the aim of our clinics is simply to make people get the most out of their canoe by helping them go faster,” said Kamanu Composites co-founder Luke Evslin, who will be offering a clinic in early May to prepare paddlers for the Kaua‘i World Challenge May 7-9.
Evslin and two of his long-time buddies opened Kamanu Composites in 2007, manufacturing some of the lightest and fastest outrigger canoes in the world.
Early Hawaiians used outrigger canoes for traveling and fishing, but also for racing and betting. Consequently, racing was banned with the missionary influence in the 1800s, halting racing-canoe development. Championed by Prince Kuhio, of Kaua‘i, outrigger canoe racing made a slow resurgence in the early 1900s.
Less than 10 years ago, most of the manufacturing of modern outrigger canoes was done in China. If someone wanted a canoe from Hawai‘i they would have to wait a year. Three young friends knew there was a better way. Kaua‘i High School students, Evslin, Keizo Gates and Kelly Foster, forged a plan to become the world’s best canoe makers. Each went on to college and studied an aspect of the business. Together, they built their Hawai‘i-based canoe company.
Kamanu Composites opened in 2007. Initially focusing on OC-1s, they began producing multiple canoes each week. To ensure quality and consistency, Kamanu capped their manufacturing to five canoes per week. Foster eventually left the partnership to pursue individual goals.
With a few models in production, the Pueo, or owl, is Kamanu’s most versatile canoe. In the company’s plant on O‘ahu, new owners may visit their canoe during each production phase, and even request a custom paint job.
In May, Kamanu will be offering a five-day OC-1 clinic. Evslin and renowned Tahitian paddler Manutea Owen will be coaching the clinic focused on preparing intermediate and experienced paddlers for the Kaua‘i World Challenge, a 36-mile ocean relay race.
Evslin said most paddlers used to learn from a coach at their local canoe club, but more and more people are jumping straight into an OC-1, bypassing the team format. Unless new paddlers have proper coaching, he said, they are likely to miss critical aspects of paddling.
Kamanu Composites offers one-on-one classes on Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, for the novice paddler. Evslin also offers group classes on Kaua‘i. Among multiple accolades as a team coach, Evslin’s team Pu‘uwai, from Wailua, became the first Kaua‘i club in at least 20 years to win one of the open men’s division races at the Hawai‘i Canoe Racing Association state championship.
The distinguishing features of a Hawaiian canoe are the curved end pieces called manu. These flank the front and back of the hull. Kamanu means “the manu”. The manu leads and encompasses the canoe. So does Kamanu Composites as they evolve into open class six-man canoeing.
An open-class Kamanu V6 does not adhere to the strict Hawaiian canoeing race criteria, which does not allow for much variation from the standard 400-pound canoes — twice as heavy as open-class canoes.
However, over the last five years, open-class canoe design evolved and races increased. Kamanu experimented with 10 unique prototypes, and now designs and builds faster canoes, and is also forging relationships with canoe clubs from all over the state. But until the Molokai Hoe, arguably the world’s most prestigious canoe race, allows open-class canoes in the race, manufacturing them in large scale won’t be feasible.
Kamanu recently introduced free-diving blades. Dubbed Iho, meaning dive or descend, these carbon dive fins have three stiffness options and offer a variety of customization.
“When we started, we didn’t realize how big our Kamanu family would get — with everyone playing a different, but integral, function,” said Evslin, crediting Kamanu’s success to Gates and the “incredible team of composite technicians.”
Now, there are as much as 17 technicians in the shop, an office manager, four sales reps spread over Los Angeles, Seattle, Japan and Hong Kong, a dozen sponsored athletes, two licensed manufacturers and “the support of the paddling community,” he said.
Being set up for manufacturing with carbon fiber affords flexibility for the company to explore on and off land pursuit, according to Evslin, but Kamanu’s focus is “to build canoes forever.”