But finding the right log—naturally straight, 35 to 45 feet long, and sturdy enough to form a six-man canoe—is not easy.
NKE Club President Jake Freeman fondly recalls that special day “the log” “found them” in May 2009 upon the eastern slopes of Mauna Kea on Hawai‘i Island.
“Humu‘ula forest is unlike any place I’ve ever experienced—beauty beyond belief,” said Freeman, an Idaho native who has hiked many Pacific Northwest forests.
The perfect present. Under a pile of debris and branches within the Hilo Forest Reserve, Nā Kai ‘Ewalu (NKE) Canoe Club’s future was discovered. (Left to right) NKE Vice President Zac Bailey, Keiki Coach James Eitel, Richard Palakiko, Keoki Roman and boardmember Hans Harder stand with their “gift.” “Once we receive the canoe, shaped from the gift of the koa log, it will mark a new beginning for us,” said NKE Club President Jake Freeman.
Photo: Nā Kai ‘Ewalu
NKE initially searched for a log on Maui, but it takes anywhere from 50 to 100 years for a koa tree to reach the ideal height, and unfortunately, more trees have been removed than replenished.
About 10 NKE members, along with Maui’s beloved kūpuna and club cultural adviser Kimokeo Kapahulehua, were “tromping through the forest, non-invasively” for several hours in the Hawai‘i Island reserve before uncovering “their gift.” Legendary canoe builder Sonny Bradley of O‘ahu accompanied them and came upon a fallen koa, apparently knocked down by another tree.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources doesn’t allow logs to be removed from its forests unless it fell, naturally. Under a dozen logs have been removed since 2000.
Earlier that year, Bradley had trekked that very trail and spied an exceptional koa. But it was still standing. Coincidently, the rare log the group located that fateful day in May turned out to be “the log”—the very same one Bradley admired on an earlier trip.
A club deep-rooted in tradition, NKE embarked on a gratuitous mission to thank the Hawaiian ancestors and gods for the koa by paddling between all the main isles. The voyages were spread over the last year, with other club members throughout the state joining NKE to accomplish the feat. The journeys are especially significant to Nā Kai ‘Ewalu—its name is derived from Hawai‘i’s eight ocean channels, although many assert there are more, but that’s another story….
NKE’s goal to “gather up all the mana of the isles” is almost complete, with only three channels left.
Although they have attained the main ingredient, the process to shape the canoe is long and costly. As a nonprofit, the log is free since it came from state land, but groups must pay for removal and a hefty labor fee to a canoe builder.
“It takes about two years to complete this ‘work of art’ and costs around $130,000 entirely—it’s worth every penny,” said Freeman. “With precious wood this large, you really only get one shot to get it right.”
Naturally, NKE contracted Bradley with the task and hopes to unveil the canoe in August 2011, when Maui hosts the state regatta.
The purple and white warriors have worked hard for several years to raise funds, and NKE is nearly halfway there.
Freeman said the club has suffered hardships, and this quest has revived NKE, which consists of nearly 100 men and women, with competitive/recreational divisions of all levels and ages ranging from 12 to 60.
They initiated a keiki program working with Kīhei Canoe Club, a group Freeman said is a “shining example and guiding light” to NKE. Keiki clean beaches, make paddles, learn chants and more.
Join Nā Kai ‘Ewalu this Saturday, June 26, for a great day of outrigger canoe racing at their next big regatta at their homebase in Kahului Harbor at Hoaloha Park. Enjoy good people, live music, a silent auction and fare from Hideaway Café.