Kai Bartlett On Making Choices


We wrote to Kai to ask him a few questions:

  • On paddle choice — Size, weight, shape, length 
double-bend or straight?
  • On picking an OC1 — Does size & weight matter, hull shape, rocker, choosing for flat or bumpy conditions?
  • On catching ocean swells – How do you catch them, 
what are you looking for?
  • Tell us about your business, Kai Waa.
  • What are some memorable races?


When looking for a paddle, you want to find something comfortable and efficient. We are all built differently, so one paddle might not work for you but works great for a friend. Keep that in mind. Try to stay away from following what others say or tell you is great, and try different paddles out for yourself to see what works best for YOU. I have personally tried many supposedly good/great paddles, all with different blade shapes, but have only come across a couple that were good paddles. Some were too stiff (especially carbon paddles) so the feel with the water wasn’t there, others had a slippery or wobbly catch due to the blade shape, and some had rough entries on the catch due to blade shape and thickness. These are just a few things I noticed so I feel it’s something good to think about when sampling a paddle with the idea to purchase. Most paddles these days are pretty light, of course all carbon paddles will be a lot lighter, but your shoulders might not appreciate them, and the paddle manufactures making all wood or Hybrid paddles with wood shafts and carbon blades are always trying to keep down the weight of the paddle so you won’t lose much by going that route if the comfort is there for you.

The length of the paddle and blade size are very important. The blade width is really personal preference. Most paddles range between 9”-10” widths. I would personally only recommend a 10” blade for a sprint, any distance with a paddle with that width would get pretty tiring. The height of your paddle should be to the bottom of your sternum for OC-6 generally, but back to the “we are all built differently,” you can go shorter if you have a shorter torso than legs. If you are over the age of 55, you may want to go a touch shorter as well to save your shoulders from injury. For OC-1, you want to be at least an inch shorter than what your OC-6 paddle would be.

One last note on the paddles, for OC-6, use the same type of paddles in the OC-6, meaning all double bend or all straight shaft. Mixing it up is not good, they have a different application through the water so the blend you need in the OC-6 will be difficult to find with a mixture of shaft types.


These days there’s still some variations between the several models of canoes out there. Hull designs are different in rocker and cross section and now cockpits are beginning to all follow in a similar direction. The canoes are generally designed to work well in all conditions from flat to rough water. Some excel more in one condition than another and some work well in all conditions. Finding that canoe that suits your build, stroke, and local conditions is something only you can do. Luckily for you, most dealers around the world have demos for you to try and I’d advise you to personally try a canoe and compare for yourself rather than taking someone’s word for it. It’s easy to say, so and so is winning in this canoe or this guy just won in that canoe but the reality is, those paddlers would win in any canoe. Don’t sell yourself short, go to your local dealer and give several of the canoes a try to find out what fits you best. Dare to Compare.

Nowadays the canoes are all pretty light. Ozone is making the lightest canoes on the market with their PRO Models. Depending on what design it is, the weights on the PRO Models are between 15.75 -16.50 lbs. Ozone makes all of Michael Giblin designs, Kaiwa’a designs and Puakea designs. Most OC-1’s on the market out of Hawaii or Ozone are in the 18-23lbs. range depending on what layup you order. Of course the lighter you go the more expensive due to the price of lighter weight carbon. If you are the serious racer, I would recommend going light, but for the weekend warrior or just going for fun with your friends, getting one several pounds heavier can be the better ticket for you. One thing I hear a lot is “I’ll just lose those extra 3 lbs.” , this is not the answer to having a lighter canoe on the water. Believe it or not, with a vessel so small in size a 2 pound difference is a pretty big difference in performance. A 4lbs. difference is huge. it’s not like a 0C-6 where a heavy crew makes a heavy canoe, it’s just you in the OC-1 so you feel every extra pound that the canoe carries not so much the added pounds you yourself carry.


Open ocean surfing is my favorite part of outrigger paddling, along with most paddlers, I’m sure. For me, being out in the middle of nowhere, catching and connecting wind swell is priceless.

In the ocean you should be looking for the back of the wave as well as the trough of the wave. Both the back of waves and troughs travel through different angles and may vary in direction. If you are near an island, the coastline and bottom structure of the ocean can also change the form and direction of the wave and trough. Ocean currents also play a role and will cause the trough to get steeper when running against the current.

Learning to read the ocean and connecting the troughs takes time. There’s really no short cut to it. The way to get better at riding bumps is to practice. Like anything else in life, repetition is the key, getting out there as much as possible to paddle in the bumps. Learning the fundamentals from others that excel in the bumps can help you with the basics, but the rest is up to you and the time you put into it. If the wind is down, look for a place along the coast with some cliffs and work the backwash. Anything like that helps because you are training your eyes to watch and follow patterns, you will also learn to feel the carriage of the wave/bump a lot more. The more practice, the more aware you will become. None of the top guys got there over night, they worked hard at it for several years to get to where they are now.


We started Kaiwa’a Canoes in 2001. I had worked for Outrigger Connection and Hawaiian Designs prior to that learning the trade. I learned a lot from Brent Bixler (Bixler Designs), Karel Tresnak (Outrigger Connection), and John Martin (Hawaiian Designs) during those years and felt it was time I give it a shot of my own. Each mentor gave/taught me something valuable for the future.

Our first design was more of a redesign. Wilder canoes asked me to change the Wave Blade. We changed the cockpit, footwells and deck configuration plus we tried our best to somewhat straighten out the hull as best we could. The original design was pretty rough, but it did work well so we had a great template to start from. We called this canoe the “POLARIS”. I attempted to shape a hand shaped design from foam not long after but the design didn’t work so well. The “ARCTURUS “ did surf Makaha well though so we still had some fun with that design. Since then, we have shaped and manufactured some successful canoes from the “PEGASUS”, the “SCORPIUS “models, and now the “ANTARES” and “ARES”. With the help of these designs, I have been able to claim 5 Molokai solo victories and 8 Molokai Relay victories. I’m pretty happy and feel very fortunate to have met so many people in the community along the way and make a living doing something I am passionate about.

I’m now working closely with Outrigger Zone. They produce the lightest canoes on the market and have a world wide distribution network enabling us to supply most paddling communities with our canoes. Outrigger Zone has been pushing their manufacturing process to new heights over the last several years, and we are excited to see what’s in store for the future. Kilakila Watersports, run by Nathan Loyola, is also a licensed builder of the “Ares” on Oahu.

By Kai Bartlettr



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