Q&A with John Puakea: Ehukai insights and more

There has been a lot of questions about the soon to be released Ehukai OC1, so we decided to ask John Puakea some questions directly, here is our discussion:

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Ozone:

You are considered by many to be an innovator and authority in the Outrigger Canoe paddling community, from canoe building and paddle construction, to athletic training. What have you been up to lately?

JP:

Apart from working on the Ehukai, in the past year I’ve devoted much of my time to the V6, or unlimited canoe. The V6 seems to be the new rage, and is bringing a lot of JP-v6-1excitement and fun back into 6-man paddling, even drawing back many former canoe paddlers who had gone into other sports. I recently designed a new V6 that will be used for the 2013 Olamau race in Kona. I’m stoked to say that Tahiti’s Shell Va’a team came to Hawaii to test the various unlimited canoes and chose mine to use for their first Olamau race. Really, really exciting. I’m honored. Mike and I are also working on a similar version to the rough-water model, but one that’s tailored for calmer, non-Hawaiian waters. This new version will be well-suited for California, Australia, and elsewhere in the world.

As for paddles, Puakea double-bend sales have grown this year, as more clubs try the paddle and really seem to like it. I’m also working on a high-end SUP paddle with SUP ATX.

On the coaching side, I worked with Danny Ching this year on his training program for the Molokai solo. It was really fun to see him do so well. I also spent a lot of time in Newport Beach this winter, holding team coaching clinics and also personal one-on-one training sessions with a wide range of competitive paddlers.

Ozone:

With the Olamau just a few days away you can bet we will all be watching to see how the crews and canoes do over the 101 miles of racing. It is really exciting to see this event come about, what started with ideas and discussions on unlimited canoe design has taken on a life of its own. It is great to be part of a sport that puts community first and where we can all contribute to it’s growth. Congratulations with your V6 design being chosen by Shell Va’a, that must be a confirmation that you are on the right track.
So getting back to OC1 and the Ehukai, can you tell us what inspired you to go back into the design room?

JP:

After I parted with Kamanu Designs, Mike Giblin of Ozone gave me a call and said, let’s do something together. Ehukai-canoe-plugWe had talked years ago about someday working together, and it just seemed that the time was right to start. For this OC1, I wanted to try something a little new in terms of canoe performance and mechanics. During a paddle one day with Jimmy Austin in Hawaii Kai, I noticed that we would go faster when we leaned back on the canoe on the bumps. I got to thinking, why is it that it’s faster on the bumps with weight toward the back, and how could I leverage this phenomenon into a new design? That really got my wheels spinning. After much analyzing and quite a few sleepless nights, I decided to chat with my brother who’s a naval aircraft carrier designer, to chew over some ideas that I thought would work this effect on the bumps. Following a few long phone conversations, I knew what I wanted to try.

Ozone:

I find this very interesting, the fact that you were inspired by leaning back on the canoe. In big conditions leaning back is the only way to keep from pearling, some canoes more than others. How does the Ehukai differ from other OC1 canoes you have designed?

JP:

For the past 10 years, my designs have been very similar. All of these designs started with the Kaimana, which was a very successful canoe in California. The Kaimana, Kainalu, and Pueo in fact are almost the same hull design with just a few deck and weight distribution changes. But the Ehukai is quite different. With this design, I’ve gone into the hull and made major cuts and tweaks. It’s wider in spots, narrower in others, with overall length and rocker changes. It was pretty scary at the time to be building something new and untested. Luckily, the result was a faster and more maneuverable canoe in the bump and a better hull speed in the flat.

Ozone:

Some say it is not possible to have an ‘all around’ canoe because it is counter-intuitive, but take the Storm for example, Mike went into the project planning to build a surfing machine and in the end he found the boat also excelled in the flat. It sounds like the Ehukai design was about improving specifics and adding to the evolution of your original design. What were the goals you were hoping to accomplish in the design of the Ehukai?

JP:

My goal in designing the Ehukai was to create a canoe that’s a few steps beyond what I’d been doing in the past. I really enjoy designing, and it’s a passion that compels me to always be doing better and to push innovation and the evolution of canoe building. I felt in a way that with the Ehukai, I was pushing forward through my own boundaries.

Ozone:

Sounds interesting! I have heard there will be some fun features and new innovations in the Ehukai, care to indulge? Do you have any favorite features that you can share?

JP:

My favorite feature on the Ehukai, besides the bladder moulding and prepreg (something I have always really wanted to do), is the footwell cover. In the rough, so much water comes into the footwell through the drains and it takes time to get back out. That’s a lot of added weight. Also, when paddling in the cold, the feet staying wet makes you cold all over. I’ve always wanted to be able to plug the drains so as to keep the water out, and keep the feet warm and dry.

Ozone:

I can think of some paddlers in cold climates that will especially appreciate that feature John. New and innovating features are exciting to see, being around Mike Giblin and Kai Bartlett I know their minds are always churning, thinking of creative ways to improve and excel. It looks like you are in good company. Can you tell us about how it has been, working with Ozone?

JP:

I’ve really enjoyed working with Mike and his brother Brian at Ozone. Besides being fun to hang out with, they both make good business partners. Mike is so smart and creative. It always amazes me how his mind works sometimes to solve a problem. And Brian is really a great hands-on guy who pushes for excellence in the factory. So I feel very confident that the canoes will be built well.

Ozone:

This is true, they really do work hard to produce a quality product. There has been controversy however, about locally built canoes versus canoes built overseas. The arguments on both sides have valid points. How do you find balance in this discussion and how does it affect your design goals?

JP:

There will always be a market for locally made canoes.oc1-factory-1I think it’s good to have this option for people who want one. My focus is to be cutting edge, and we here in Hawaii just can’t compete with the advanced and expensive technology that goes into a canoe from the Ozone factory. A prepreg bladder moulded canoe is so tough and strong and light, above and beyond anything else. This is the type of canoe I want to be making. The challenge is the little things, with rigging, for example. But Mike, Brian and I have made a lot of forward movement and everything has come together. For me, building a truly high-end canoe that I can offer to paddlers all over the world is an awesome thing.



Ozone:

Well said. The sport seems to be open to new ideas but not without debate, which indeed is healthy and important for long term values.
It has been great discussing the Ehukai with you John, I can’t wait to sample one myself. This is an exciting time to be a paddler, I am interested to see what you guys come up with next.

JP:

I think we’ll be seeing a lot more coming out of Ozone, not just canoes in numbers but also great new designs that are built with real quality. I’m excited to be a part of it and plan to bring new ideas and designs that will push the envelope even further.

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– Joe Ferguson
Design & Marketing

We will be posting the first photos of the Ehukai via Facebook and through our Newsletter, if you would like to be notified please “like” our Facebook page or subscribe to our newsletter below.

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