Kilakila Water Sports
A story about canoes, and life.
Hidden away in the middle of nowhere on Ewa Beach, O’ahu, Hawaii is a very unique shop that builds custom outrigger canoes. It might be quite hard to find but the owner of Kilakila Water Sports likes it that way.
“Our shop is on Ewa Beach in the middle of nowhere, but we enjoy the privacy. I call it the hideout.” says Nate.
It is at this hideout that Kilakila Water Sports are building some of the most sought after canoes in Hawaii.
Talis Crew is proud to sit down with Nate Loyola, owner of Kilakila Water Sports, to listen to how this canoe maker is changing the game, one canoe at a time.
Hi Nate, thanks for your time, can you tell us about yourself and how did Kilakila Water Sports start?
My name is Nathan Kilakila Loyola, I’m from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. I’ve been paddling since November 2007. I started paddling in high school, and it kinda just stuck. I went to college and got a degree in Civil Engineering. When I finished, I knew that engineering wasn’t really something I wanted to do.
Around the same time that I graduated, I heard that the founder of Kai Wa’a canoes, Kai Bartlett, was possibly looking for workers on Maui. Getting an engineering degree and then abandoning that to try to become a canoe builder instead isn’t the most logical thing to do. Basically it was throwing out the past four years and starting over. Making a living off something paddling related was definitely a dream but I knew that it was pretty risky and not the smartest thing to do at that point in my life.
My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, actually convinced me to try. She thought that one day I would regret not taking the chance and going for it.
I got in contact with Kai and he asked if I had ever built or worked on a canoe before. Told him no, he asked if I was willing to move to Maui to learn, and I said yeah. I packed up my stuff and moved to Maui on October 31, 2013. I went there not knowing anyone, without any money, or a place to live. I just ate peanut butter and bread for the first two weeks I was there.
Before I moved to Maui, Kai and I had talked about the possibility of me one day building canoes on O’ahu. It was about a year and a half later that Kai told me I should start looking into going back to O’ahu and setting up a shop.
It was around June 2015, when I went back to O’ahu and started building the shop with my, at that time, future father in law. My father in law pretty much built the shop ground up, and I just helped. Well, I kinda just passed him stuff and carried things, I’m a canoe builder not a canoe shop builder. November 2015 is when we actually started to build canoes.
My team is my brother Nakoa and Pat Von. For five years now, my brother and I have been building the canoes together, start to finish. We’ve reached a point where we are definitely in sync at the shop. I put my earphones in and turn on my music, and he has his earphones in too. I have no idea what he listens to and we don’t say a word to each other for four or five days at a time. I guess you could say it’s just a unique bond that we have.
Recently Pat Von has also joined the ranks. He pretty much handles everything on the business side for us nowadays. My brother and I focus on building and Pat takes care of the rest.
It’s just the three of us for the time being. We may grow and acquire one or two more down the line. We’re definitely always looking for help, but our irregular schedule and work aren’t always a good fit for everyone. I guess we’ll see what happens.
What does a typical work day look like at the shop?
My shop is in my back yard so it’s not much of a commute. We don’t work a 9–5 schedule. I work around my wife’s schedule. Since she’s a flight attendant, she works unusual hours and is gone from home quite a bit. Normally she’d be gone 3–5 days at a time. Anytime she was gone I’d work 24/7. Day and night I’d live in the shop. Then, when she is home, I wouldn’t work at all and just hang out with her. Now that we have our daughter it’s basically the opposite. When my wife is gone, I watch our daughter, and when she’s home I’m in the shop. It is definitely a unique schedule and lifestyle that I have fallen into.
There are new canoe projects and other things in the works. New things are coming soon but for me, the biggest thing about 2021 will be welcoming the newest member of our family.
Can you talk about building canoes and what are some of the challenges?
When I started the shop in 2015, there was still a lot that I didn’t quite know how to do yet. There is still a lot of things I’m still trying to figure out today. When it comes to how we build canoes I always say I don’t know. We’re just figuring it out as we go.
I definitely love making canoes and making something that hopefully makes people happy. I love what I do and it’s not really work for me. The canoe shop is more of a hobby. The shop is like my man cave and I go there to fool around. I always say, “I’m gonna go play around in the shop now.”
The biggest challenge for us is speed. Everyone who orders a canoe wants it yesterday, but with only two of us, we can only go as fast we can go. The benefit of having just two people, and not mass producing is we can get a little creative sometimes. We’re at a pace where we can make some unique canoes with some designs or colors that aren’t typically seen every day. We have some colors and designs that we’re still waiting to try out.
What’s your view on paddling?
The great thing about paddling is that I see it used for everything. I see it used for fishing, exercise and getting healthy, people exploring and chasing adventure, others pushing their mental and physical abilities to the limits in competitions, and it’s used socially, people spending time with lifelong friends or making new ones. It can be anything depending on what a person wants out of it.
For me what I get out of paddling is happiness. It’s almost as if when I leave solid ground and paddle to the ocean, everything else stays on land. Whatever things I’m working on, or need to work on, issues and stress that I have just don’t seem to exist when I’m on the water. It’s a hard thing to explain to people. But for those few hours, I feel like I’m free.
I’ve done a lot of races, and racing is racing. Most of the big races have been around for a while and aren’t going anywhere, so there are no big races that I’m really looking forward to right now. Something I’m really looking forward to though is the possibility of my kids racing one day. One hasn’t made two years old, and the other hasn’t even been born yet, so who knows if they’ll wanna paddle one day. But something that I’m excited about is the possibility of maybe one day making a canoe for them, and getting to paddle with them. Their first race would be something I’d be extremely excited about.
Talis Crew’s tagline is Good Times Ahead, is there any wisdom you can drop to other small businesses during these tough times.
I’m not sure if I’d call it wisdom, because I know that one man’s advice may not apply to everyone. We’re all facing difficult times these days and everyone has different struggles, but we just try to keep moving forward with anything we do. Whenever we’ve faced challenges, our motto in the shop and in life has been to keep moving forward and innovate whenever we get stuck. We never spend a day doing nothing. Every day we have to do something that is going to somehow keep us moving forward in life. That’s what we’ve been doing, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.
Last words, what would you like to tell the paddling community?
I’d have to thank everyone in the paddling community who has supported us over these past years. We’re extremely grateful that we’ve been able to go this long and still have canoes to build. I think there are too many people to name that I owe shout outs to for helping and supporting us. Pat and my brother Nakoa, our team riders, and a bunch of other family and friends that have helped us get here.
And as always, I have to thank my wife, Jasmine. She is the one person who has been with me since day one of this journey. The support I get from Jas, every day, is the reason I can do the things that I do. Without Jas, there is no Kilakila Water Sports.
Follow Kilakila Water Sports on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/kilakilawatersports/
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