Motto: ‘We Build Canoes’

Luke Evslin paddles his Kamanu outrigger canoe on Wailua River. Amanda C. Gregg photos

By Luke Evslin
Owner, Kamanu Composites

Tell us about your business. Kamanu Composites is an Oahu-based manufacturing company. We build outrigger canoes.

How did you get started in this business and how long has it been going? My two original partners (Kelly Foster and Keizo Gates, also from Kaua’i) and I have been dreaming of this business since high school. The three of us paddled together and wanted to make paddling an official part of our life. We took on a fourth partner from Oahu and built our first canoe in October of 2007.

Where are you from originally, and what role does that play in your business? I was born on Kaua’i. Growing up on Kaua’i allows you to see and understand the value of community. It was that intrinsic belief in the importance of a community that led us to set up a local manufacturing option.

What is your specialty, and who can benefit from it? We mainly build carbon fiber OC-1s (one-person outrigger canoes). Anyone who paddles outrigger canoe has an interest in the ocean or believes in a healthy lifestyle can directly benefit from our product. But, more broadly, everyone in Hawai’i can benefit from local manufacturing.

For those who may not understand what you do, why is it essential? Over the last decade America has lost one third of its manufacturing jobs. We’ve begun to believe that we can send those jobs overseas and continue to grow our economy just by consuming. I believe wholeheartedly that manufacturing is at the heart of economic growth, and that our problem is that we’ve forgotten that. We can’t consume our way to prosperity. We have to produce our way there. So we build canoes. Epoxy and carbon fiber come into our shop, and canoes go out. Other than local agriculture, there are few things more essential for our future than local manufacturing.

Pieces of a canoe in production. Photo courtesy Kamanu

What sets your business apart? All of our competitors have manufacturing operations centralized in China. We are different because we came into this business as manufacturers, not as outsourcers. Go to our website and you will see “We Build Canoes” proudly proclaimed on the top. Unfortunately, that is what sets us apart. I run the business from Kaua’i, another partner designs from the North Shore of Oahu, while another partner runs production at our Kailua facility. It’s a unique setup, and we’ve been very successful with it. While us and all of our competitors are in the business of promoting outrigger canoeing, only we are in the business of trying to promote manufacturing.

Why do you do what you do? For two reasons: First, paddling is my life. It’s what I know and what I love. And I’m lucky that I’ve been able to create a living around it. I get to talk to customers about outrigger canoeing all day. Second, and more than that, I also strongly believe in what we are doing. I believe that it is essential that we start producing as much as we can locally.

What motivates you to get up and go to work every day? The good part about owning a business is that you don’t need motivation to get up. You don’t have a choice. There is always a fire to put out or a new initiative to push, and those issues don’t get solved on their own.

Do you have a business motto or philosophy for doing business? “We Build Canoes.” It’s who we are and what we do.

What is the most challenging aspect of your business? Figuring out how to make it sustainable. We are trying to create a company that will be around in 100 years. To do so, we need to ensure that not only do we have the internal structure for it, but also that we have a positive impact on the world. Composite manufacturing is inherently resource intensive. Our dream is to be able to build a canoe from renewable resources using renewable energy. If we don’t achieve it, then we won’t have an industry in 100 years.

What is your business plan for the future? We would like to take our model for local manufacturing around the world. Every area that paddles should build its own canoes. Since a container of canoes is mostly empty space, it doesn’t make sense to centralize operations and ship around the world. Even though the founding partners are all from Kaua’i, we found it necessary to manufacture on Oahu, because that’s where 80 percent of our customers live. We ship out hundreds of canoes every year, but I dream of the day that we stop filling containers. That means setting up a small shop manufacturing system that is replicable in every sense.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? I’d be a farmer.

Where can people learn more? At kamanucomposites.com or by calling 2288609, or email us at info@kamanucomposites.com.

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