By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Above, Walter Guild paddles a solo outrigger canoe
his company builds. The 23-foot Sniper weighs 27 pounds.
Below, the canoe has a speed/distance meter, rudder
pedals and water-bottle holder.
A single-seat version of aBy Jerry Tune
traditional design has people
taking up outrigger canoeing
around the world
Walter Guild glides over the ocean in front of the Outrigger Canoe Club several days each week, testing a one-person outrigger canoe design that is being exported to the East Coast, California and Australia.
It is Hawaii's unique contribution to the canoe business, and sales are growing each year.
"The one-man outrigger canoe originated here and is only about 10 years old," said Guild, owner of Canoe Sports Hawaii.
His company makes the canoes at the Campbell Industrial Park, and also license its designs to other manufacturers in Maine, Huntington Beach, Calif., and near Brisbane, Australia.
Guild is one of eight Hawaii makers of outrigger canoes. Many are sole proprietors who work out of garages, he said. "They all have three- to five-month back orders for the solo canoes," Guild said.
"Our business plan has been to increase the number of sales in the sport," Guild said. "Grow the pie enough and even though our percentage gets smaller, our gross continues to increase."
He markets competitors products as well through race promotions, some of which get on the ESPN television sports network. The Altres King Kalakaua Regatta is featured on the Hawaiian Sports Adventure weekly show, he said.
The Canoe Sports Hawaii plant at the Campbell Industrial Park employs four people and at top production can make about 100 of the solo canoes or about 50 of the six-person canoes a year. Normal business is a mix of both.
The eight Hawaii canoe makers sell new solo canoes anywhere from $1,600 to $3,000 and the six-person canoes for about $8,300, Guild said.
Paddlers use the 21-foot to 23-foot long solo canoes for training during the winter and use 43-foot or 44-foot six-person canoes for races in other parts of the year, Guild said.
Because more people are getting interested in paddling, a second-hand market for canoes is developing and this brings the cost down to $600 or $800 for a used solo person canoe, Guild said.
The buyers are not limited to experienced canoe racers.
"Originally, it was for the young professionals (who could afford the canoes) but now it has broadened out to kids at about 20 years old up to those in their 60s," Guild said.
The sport can continue to attract new people, he says, pointing to the 13 outrigger canoe clubs on the East Coast that have started in the last year.
The Liberty Cup outrigger race in New York last July drew six crews but this year is expected to draw 18 crews. "It's now a major event," he said. Hamilton Island in Australia also hosts a race.
Encouraged by that kind of popularity, Guild is working hard to expand exports to new places.
"If you figure in your time and energy, and charge for all the hours put in, it takes about $50,000 to $75,000 to develop a new design," Guild said.
The latest design took a year while Guild used his experience in the ocean waters to come up with the "balance of length and sleekness" with the buoyancy necessary to hold up in the rough channel waters.
"Computer (designs) can't relate to the Molokai channel," he said.
The Hawaii canoe-making business shifted from wood to Fiberglas in the 1960s. Guild's canoes are made of composite materials such as carbon fiber with epoxy resin.
He sends molds of the new designs to the Maine, California and Australia manufacturers.
Jason Somerville-Kimlin in Australia and Tim Dougherty in California pay Guild royalties as canoes are sold.
In Maine, Dick Michelson -- a former insurance executive -- is a partner with Guild. He got interested in canoe making after seeing a photo display with canoes in a Crazy Shirts catalog.
While sales of Hawaii-made outrigger canoes still are relatively small -- reaching about $1.2 million last year on 440 sales -- Guild believes there is a growth potential to new areas such as Europe as the sport increases in popularity just as windsurfing did.
How large can the sport get?
"It's going to get very large, especially in Hawaii and in climates where you can do it year-round," Guild said. "It's almost doubled every year since 1989."
Guild formed Canoe Sports Hawaii in 1989 to combine canoe manufacturing with promotion of canoe racing.
Today, some races have 180 canoes and there are two local magazines -- Pacific Paddler and Hawaii Paddling -- that follow the sport.
Guild said sponsors for paddlers include Altres, a temporary employment company; Power Bar, which makes energy foods; Hinano Beer, Island Snow and several local clothing companies.