Vision quest

A Kilauea man helped create a ceremonial canoe that will be used in celebrations on Oahu.

Erik Hanson built the hull of the 19-foot long craft, while friend Tevita Kunato handled the design.

“He’s the artistic force,” Hanson said. “He’s the woodcarver, artist, canoe builder.”

The Hilton at Waikiki commissioned Kunato to build a ceremonial canoe this summer and he recruited Hanson. Kunato completed much of the deck in Costa Mesa, California, before shipping it to Kauai, where the two men completed and then tested the canoe in the waters off Anini Beach.

“The client requested a ‘ceremonial’ design that married both traditional and modern. The goal was to create a ‘living artifact.’ I think that I was able to pull it off,” Kunato said.

He wanted it to be sleek, bold and beautiful, with repeating motifs carved into the gunnels and splash covers.

“I am shooting for dramatic contrast, a dark black hull with mahogany trim, exciting lashings,” Kunato said. “That was my vision.”

It’s going to be used for wedding and honeymoon photo shoots.

Hanson said it was the first joint project between the two friends. He created the hull using mahogany with fiberglass. The bottom has three layers of carbon fiber.

“He came up with a cool method of bending plywood into a jig I’ve never seen before in my life,” Kunato said.

The test run at Anini Beach went well with some vacationers taking it out for a spin — the woman sat on the deck, while the man sat in back and paddled, just as it will likely be for real ceremonies.

“It behaved great,” Hanson said.

The canoe is being shipped via Young Brothers to Honolulu. Hanson and Kunato will arrive next week to reassemble it a final time, instruct staff on maintenance and take part in a blessing ceremony.

Kunato was born in Papua, New Guinea and works part time on Hilo. His background influenced the design and artwork. He described it as an infusion of a Hawaiian hull with a South Pacific outrigger system.

“I decided to use the theme, ‘integregation,’” he said.

“He just takes his ideas from across the Pacific,” said Hanson, a member of the Hanalei Canoe Club and a self-taught canoe builder.

Kunato said the canoe gives him a great level of pride.

“Incredibly proud, super happy,” he said.

Hanson, too, appreciates the finished project.

“I think this is beautiful,” he said.

Kunato believes once the canoe is officially unveiled, he and Hanson will receive more orders and likely collaborate on future projects.

“I really think this canoe is going to cause some commotion,” he said.

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