My job is building lightweight outrigger canoes in Hawaii

Name: George Wilson
Function: Production manager Kamanu Composites

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George Wilson spray paints the inside of a canoe. Most 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 single-person canoe weighing just 16 to 17 pounds. Most of their canoes are for one or two people, but they also sell a six-person outrigger canoe. They sell locally and all over the world.

Get started: Wilson was born and raised in Waimānalo and has been a rower all his life. After attending Kaiser High School, he went to work for his family’s construction company. “On a whim, I stopped working in construction. My father wasn’t very enthusiastic about that. But I love paddling and decided I would like to figure out how to make canoes. I had no experience so I randomly emailed my future boss at Kamanu Composites. Here I am seven years later,” he says.

Full circle: Located in Kailua’s Kapa’a Industrial Park, Kamanu Composites prides itself on local manufacturing, sustainability and supporting the local community. “For me, the coolest thing is the whole circle moment. I’ve always been a paddler, I really love it, and I kind of gave up my life for paddling. It is very satisfying to be able to make canoes every day and work with like-minded people,” says Wilson. The “full circle” has a second meaning for him, because his work includes everything from guiding the design of the canoes to making them and getting them to the customer. “I think the design process and releasing new canoes is such a unique experience,” Wilson says. “My boss does all the science and design, and I get to test them to give immediate feedback. We don’t make new designs that often, so having a say in the process is fun to be a part of.”

Inspiration: “I think you’ll probably hear it from everyone who works here, but it’s all about local production. Everyone is passionate about paddling and this community,” Wilson said. “In addition to keeping everything local, I think having our Kailua store is extremely important to the community. When people walk through the door, they can see canoes being made and receive direct service from someone. They don’t have to order parts from another country,” he says. “I think this personal connection and relationship is why many people continue to order our canoes and choose us over other companies.”

International: From time to time, Wilson travels abroad with shipments and containers. In addition to local sales, Kamanu Composites customers are in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, California and Japan, and Wilson meets some of them during his travels.

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

Challenges: “Local production is difficult – everything from sourcing materials to finding workers,” says Wilson. “We do such a niche thing that even people with a composite background don’t get it right away.” Another major challenge is the Chinese competitors. “It is difficult to export canoes from Hawaii because companies in China have a huge advantage and reach,” he says.

Typical days: “I think my only job description is to get canoes out the door as efficiently as possible, so I make it up sometimes.” He has worked almost every job in the store for the past seven years. Now his duties focus on inspections and quality control, meeting with customers and finishing the canoes.

Possibilities: Wilson says Kamanu Composites is always looking for people to join the team. “Most people will actually make the boat, get used to the material and mixing resin. Then we finish them further, which is more tedious and requires a lot of attention to detail. Then people move on to spray painting canoes, which is probably the hardest work. We try to ensure that people gain experience and develop well,” says Wilson. If you are interested in a job, please email a motivation letter and CV to [email protected].

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