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My Job Is Constructing Lightweight Outrigger Canoes in Hawai‘i

Name: George Wilson
Job: Production Manager, Kamanu Composites

 

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George Wilson sprays the inside of a canoe. Most of Kamanu Composites’ canoes are for one or two people. | Photo: Aaron Yoshino

His Work: George Wilson and his team at Kamanu Composites manufacture lightweight outrigger canoes using modern materials, with the Noio one-person canoe weighing only 16 to 17 pounds. Most of their canoes are for one or two people, but they do sell a six-person outrigger canoe. They sell locally and around the world.

 

Beginnings: Wilson was born and raised in Waimānalo and has been a paddler his whole life. After attending Kaiser High School, he started working for his family’s construction company. “On a whim, I quit working construction. My dad wasn’t super stoked on that. But I love paddling and decided I would like to go figure out how to make canoes. I didn’t have any experience and then I randomly emailed my future boss at Kamanu Composites. Here I am seven years later,” he says.

 

Full Circle: Kamanu Composites, based in Kailua’s Kapa‘a Industrial Park, prides itself on local manufacturing, sustainability and supporting the local community. “The coolest thing I think is the whole full circle moment for me. I’ve always been a paddler, I really love it, and I kind of gave up my life for paddling. Being able to make canoes every day and work with like-minded people is very fulfilling,” Wilson says. The “full circle” has a second meaning for him because his job covers everything from helping guide the design of the canoes to making them and getting them to customers. “I think that the design process and coming out with new canoes is such a unique experience,” Wilson says. “My boss does all the science and designing, and I get to go out and test them to give direct feedback. We don’t make new designs super often, so having a say in the process is a cool thing to be a part of.”

 

Inspiration: “I think you’ll probably hear it from everybody who works here but we are all about local manufacturing. Everyone is passionate about paddling and this community,” Wilson says. “Other than keeping everything local, I think having our Kailua storefront for the community is extremely important. When people walk through the door, they can see canoes being made and get direct service from someone. They don’t need to order parts from another country,” he says. “I think that face-to-face connection and relationship is why a lot of people continue to order our canoes and choose us over other companies.”

 

International: From time to time, Wilson will travel with shipments and containers heading overseas. As well as selling locally, Kamanu Composites’ customers are in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, California and Japan, and Wilson gets to meet some of them on his trips.

 

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Kamanu Composites, based in Kailua’s Kapa‘a Industrial Park, prides itself on local manufacturing, sustainability and supporting the local community. | Photo: Aaron Yoshino

 

Challenges: “Local manufacturing is hard – everything from sourcing material to finding workers,” Wilson says. “We do such a niche thing that even people with a composite background don’t immediately get it from the start.” Another big challenge is Chinese competitors. “It is hard exporting canoes out of Hawai’i, because companies in China have a huge advantage and broad reach,” he says.

 

Typical Days: “I think my only job description is getting canoes out the door as efficiently as possible, so I kind of make it up as I go sometimes.” Over the past seven years, he has had nearly every job in the shop. Now, his duties are focused on inspections and quality control, meetings with customers and finishing the canoes.

 

Opportunities: Wilson says Kamanu Composites is always looking for people to be part of its team. “Most people will start actually making the boat, getting used to the material and mixing resin. Then we move them to finishing, which is more tedious and requires high attention to detail. Next, people move along to spraying canoes, which is probably the hardest job. We try to get people to gain experience and become well-rounded,” says Wilson. If interested in employment, email a cover letter and resume to keizo@ kamanucomposites.com.

 

 

Anna Harden

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