Traditional Outrigger Kanu by Tevita Kunato

A few years back (sometime in 2009) by buddy Tevita Kunato decided to make a traditional style outrigger canoe; Tevita was born and raised in Papua New Guinea and though he left in his late teens or early 20’s he has a great respect for the traditions of his youth incorporating designs from throughout the Pacific into his art. Living in the town of Hilo, on Hawaii Island, he basically just walked into a friends backyard, cut down a tree, and went to work – several weeks later he had a canoe! Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of him carving the canoe but you can check out his blog here.

After the first ‘sea-trial’ he brought the canoe to my yard for a few adjustments. Here’s a video of lashing it down on the trailer prior to the 2nd launching:

A couple paddles he made:

And here’s Tevita paddling around Reeds Bay in Hilo:

The reason I’m writing about Tevita’s kanu – besides the good memories – is that his work has inspired my pursuit of canoe building. We’re going at it in different ways: he’s an artist/woodcarver bringing together designs from throughout Oceania to create one-of-a-kind functional works of art; I hope to create a canoe design that will honor the traditions of Hawaii, a simple, durable and inexpensive canoe – one that can be built in a minimum amount of time. I want to host workshops of 10 or so people – each person completing their own canoe during the workshop. I want to see many wa’a on the water throughout the Hawaiian islands…


Kayak Fishing… What Happened To The Outrigger Canoe?

Last week I left Hilo on Hawaiian Airlines on my way home to Kauai; each time I fly Hawaiian I look forward to the latest copy of Hana Hou!, the airlines in-flight magazine. In this latest edition (April/May 2013) the story that caught my attention was “Who Needs A Bigger Boat? Two-hundred-pound ‘ahi vs. fourteen-foot piece of plastic: the thrill of kayak fishing”. kayak_fishermanIt was a great article about a minimalistic approach to fishing – just you, a few poles, and a small craft propelled by your own muscles! Many of these kayak fishers will even go several miles off-shore in pursuit of their prey!

At one point in the story Isaac Brumaghim, a kayak fisherman living on Oahu, mentions “Canoe racing was a part of my Hawaiian culture, and I really took pride in that… I tried fishing off a one-man outrigger, but those canoes are expensive and fragile and there’s not really enough room.” …That was it. That sentence is the catalyst for this website – the call to action that I’ve decided to follow!

Outrigger canoes are expensive! Explore the islands of Hawaii and you rarely see outrigger canoes outside of Canoe Clubs or Waikiki. I haven’t traveled the South Pacific very much – but I have visited Fiji, Samoa, and Nauru. Go into any village along the coast and you’ll see small outrigger canoes made for fishing – made for daily use.DCF 1.0

Look around Hawaii and you’ll mostly see expensive canoes made for racing! Outrigger Canoe rides are one of many attractions for tourists on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, HI.Now don’t get me wrong, outrigger canoe racing is a great sport. I don’t want to limit the number of racing canoes, I want to increase the number of fishing/surfing canoes!

Let me back up a few years. From 2005-2010 I lived in Hilo on Hawaii Island (aka: the Big Island). Shortly after moving there I met Tevita Kunato – a wood carver/artist born in Papua New Guinea. I can’t remember exactly when but some time in 2009 he decided to make a traditional island outrigger canoe – so he walked into a friends back acreage, cut down a tree, built a tarp tent over it, and went to work! Using an adze, fire, chainsaw, chisels, and a lot of sweat, he carved out a canoe! tumbu_kanuI was there the day we pulled it “out of the bush” and put it in the water at Reeds Bay in Hilo (click here). The long and the short of it was that he decided to build a canoe and within a month or so he did it! Since then he’s built several more – and sold them too!

Sitting around the tanoa (kava bowl) at our friend Fong’s house we’d talk about designs and what to do differently, lamenting the fact that there are so few outrigger canoes in Hawaii. We even bought a set of plans online for the WakaAma Canoe – a Selway-Fisher Design. Unlike Tevita, I usually have to mull over an idea for a long time, then talk about it even longer, before I finally take action. So here it is several years later… BUT it is time to take action!

I have several resources I’ll post about: The Hawaiian Canoe by Tommy Holmes; Building Outrigger Sailing Canoes by Gary Dierking; the plans for building the strip-plank canoe Ulua by Gary Dierking; the plans for the WakaAma mentioned earlier; and I’ll be posting my progress as I build Hawaiian style outrigger canoes. The goal is to create a design that can be built easily and affordably; one that can be used for fishing and surfing. There will probably be at least two different designs: a one-man and a 2-3 man canoe. Like my friend Tevita I’ll try to jump in and just get to work…