Sand, Sun & SI

The island of Kauai — 22 pages worth — is featured front and center in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2015 edition, which hit newsstands Monday.

There’s Russian model and actress Irina Shayk standing tall above Waimea Canyon. Emily DiDonato pictured on a vacant Polihale Beach. Gigi Hadid with a horse along a sandy stretch of coastline in Mahaulepu. Emily Ratajkowski at Makua (Tunnels) Beach.

“They really, really took good care of us,” Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, said of the publication.

KVB utilized $70,000 in county funding to support SI with the production costs for the shoot, while the St. Regis Princeville Resort provided in-kind support with special rate accommodations.

While KVB’s contract called for eight to 10 pages of coverage, SI gave Kauai 22, including a short write up, 15 large images and a collage of smaller photos.

Speaking by phone from the New York City launch event on Monday, Kanoho said she was extremely pleased.

“The Kauai section was beyond my expectation in page count and exposure,” Kanoho said. “Photographer Yu Tsai’s work was a perfect match for Kauai and I could not be happier with the end result of this project.”

Among some of the highlights of the shoot, as referenced on a display at the New York event, were the horse untying Hadid’s bikini, the crew spotting not one but two double rainbows and Ratajkowski being photographed in nothing but a monstera leaf at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens.

Kauai is the only Hawaiian Island featured in this year’s issue, and it is the first time the Garden Isle has been included in the annual edition since 1989.

The swimsuit issue is reportedly the most widely read magazine in the world, and will be seen by more than 62 million in the U.S. alone. A full page ad in the publication costs $400,000.

Kanoho said SI approached KVB in early March of 2014 about doing a destination shoot on the island. In April, an 18-person crew, including five models, traveled to Kauai.

“This is definitely one of the most scenic locations I’ve shot at,” model DiDonato says in a video posted to SI’s website Monday. “You don’t really feel like you’re on Earth, sort of.”

“You know what, those pictures were one of the most beautiful pictures that I ever took in my life,” Shayk added.

In addition to using Kauai as a feature destinations, SI adorned its models with a number of locally made swimsuits and accessories.

In one full-page photo, a topless Shayk sports a Niihau shell necklace and bracelets owned by Kanoho and made several years ago by Gale Sagucio, owner of JJ Ohana in Hanapepe.

Sagucio said Monday’s news came as a total shock. While she’s had pieces featured in smaller publications over the years, SI takes the cake.

“I’m just blown away,” she said. “And, it’s good for me.”

Again — her work will be exposed to tens of millions of people around the world.

Local designer Kapua Kaneakua, owner of Mermaid at Heart Hawaii, has several pieces of handmade jewelry featured in the magazine, and even more in pictures posted at si.com.

“It’s just crazy,” she said of seeing her bracelets and necklaces being worn by the likes of Di Donato and Shayk.

Above all, Kaneakua said she’s proud — not only that SI chose her work (perhaps the first by a native Hawaiian designer), but also her island home.

Omao resident Lennie Collins, owner of La Vida Aloha Swimwear, has had her bikinis in SI Swimsuit before, worn by models Kate Upton and Chrissy Teigen. This year, in photos and videos on the SI website, Shayk can bee seen sporting a La Vida Aloha bikini along Mahaulepu Beach.

Collins said when she saw the images Monday she nearly threw up out of excitement.

“It’s because it’s practically in my backyard, in Mahaulepu,” she said. “I mean, it’s my own turf, and that makes it even more special.”

What’s funny, Collins said, is that she sent the bikini to New York nearly a year ago only so that SI could turn around and bring it all the way back to Kauai to be photographed. And now, the piece, she assumes, is back in New York.

“Shayk probably liked it so much, that’s why I haven’t gotten it back,” Collins joked.

In its write up, SI said its team was blessed to have the Garden Isle as its verdant backdrop.

“Kauai is the least visited of the major islands in Hawaii, so it offers something of a get-away-from-it-all vibe,” it reads. “It’s a lush, green island, but it also has tons of beaches, with sand ranging from white coral to the black sands of Waimea Beach … The backdrop all but guaranteed a great shot, but it also didn’t hurt that we were given a traditional island blessing by a kumu (a Hawaiian teacher).”

In addition to the locations mentioned, SI shot at Kee Beach, Kekaha Beach, Moloaa Fruit Stand, National Tropical Botanical Garden and Smith’s Tropical Paradise.

Kanoho, who could not discuss details in light of a strict non-disclosure agreement that ended Monday, said the Kauai photo shoots presented a number of challenges for the SI team.

Not surprisingly, it rained a lot.

“They ended up chasing the sun, as most people do,” Kanoho said.

The final product, however, surpassed all expectations.

“I have to say, we have a strong partnership working together and they’ve really done Kauai well,” Kanoho said.

On Monday, KVB provided 3,000 flower lei for distribution at SI’s “SwimCity” launch event at Herald Square, along with tropical flowers for display. A large photo of Wailua Falls was used as a backdrop during the event.

KVB says Kauai will also be included in a five-part Travel Channel series about the SI photo shoots.

For more information, visit www.si.com/swimsuit/2015.

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Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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