Erika Engle

New paddle gear shop,
with local designs,
opens in Kailua

OIWI Ocean Gear LLC is up and running in Kailua Beach Center, at 130 Kailua Road, serving paddlers and other ocean enthusiasts with its own proprietary designs.

"Surfing has been done to death at this point," said President David Kim.

The retail space has the ambiance of a breezy island beach home. Its beach-mat floors lead through to fitting rooms resembling outdoor shower stalls. "I call it Malaekahana beach distressed," said Vice President Deborah Ching. The stalls, built of worn wood, have oversized shower heads and outdoor-type faucets for hanging clothes. Canvas curtains bear the same print as some of the swim wear.

Conventional retail and marketing wisdom says "you don't spend 14 months planning 600 square feet," Ching said. But Kim did anyway.

Finding the right fabrics and manufacturers for the company's men's and women's apparel took most of the time.

Kim and his "incredible" design team needed to find the combination that would create apparel that would be functional, flexible and sturdy enough to stand up to year-round, ocean-geared lifestyles, use by hard-core paddlers and the punishing Hawaiian sun.

The time spent paid off first when women's sporting-apparel catalog retailer Athleta made an order before even meeting with Kim and Ching. Oiwi sent swimwear samples and a brochure from whence Athleta officials ordered thousands of pieces, Ching said. The line, using Oiwi's proprietary fabric, is featured at www.athleta.com. The catalogs will soon be distributed.

During a tour of the store, Ching held up a waterproof paddler's cap with a mesh top for venting heat and moisture, embroidered with the Oiwi logo. "These are hard to find," Ching said.

In addition to the paddler's caps there are embroidered ball caps and visors in various color combinations.

Some of the company's rash guards, in both short and long sleeves, bear a small Oiwi logo on the sleeve or elsewhere, but are largely plain to allow for customization by paddling or other teams.

Paddling shorts for women bear a small, hidden, zippered pocket and are designed to stay on in stormy waves.

Design is the common bond between Kim and company co-founder Kawika Mahelona. They grew up with iconic surfwear logos, local and otherwise. They thought how cool it would be to create their own icon, locally.

Kim and Mahelona always talked about designing a clothing line, but life got in the way. Kim moved to New York where he was a freelance graphic designer until the tech bubble burst. Meanwhile back in the islands, Mahelona was paddling and working on designs for the Anuenue paddling club. Kim came home and the two dug in on the dream, which is now hanging on hangers, folded on display shelves and may be increasingly visible as regatta season opens.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: eengle@starbulletin.com

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