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Kauai’s Gift To Waikiki Echoes Elvis

HIlton Hawaiian Village's new wedding canoe PHOTO FROM ERIK HANSON

HIlton Hawaiian Village’s new wedding canoe PHOTO FROM ERIK HANSON

It is one of the most romantic and classic Hollywood scenes filmed in Hawaii: Elvis Presley serenading Joan Blackman with Hawaiian Wedding Song as they float on a double-hulled canoe at Coco Palms on Kauai.

And while Blue Hawaii was just a movie, visitors soon will get a chance to enjoy a similar experience at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach on a much smaller canoe — minus Elvis, of course.

“That really wasn’t the intent,” laughs canoe maker Erik Hanson, a Kilauea resident, when asked about the memorable movie scene. “But couples will be smiling, for sure.”

It all started when Hilton officials discovered the work of canoe maker Tevita Kunato. The woodcarver was approached by the hotel and commissioned to create a twoman “ceremonial canoe” for guests to enjoy.

“They found me online, and they liked what they saw and read in my blog,” says a humble Kunato. “I think they were sold on me before they even called.”

“After some dialogue on what they needed, he built a small-scale model that they liked, and after a few adjustments the project quickly moved forward,” adds Hanson.

Hanson explains that the hotel wanted to offer the canoe as part of a wedding package, where couples are offered the chance to paddle the canoe in the hotel’s world-famous lagoon. He says Kunato reached out to him and asked if he’d like to help with the project.

“We both lived in Hilo and he knew of my work with fiberglass,” says Hanson, who works professionally as an Internet marketer. “Tevita was concerned that an all-wood canoe could not withstand the use it would see in a commercial setting, so he asked me to make a fiberglass hull that would provide the protection it needed.”

The 17-and-a-half-foot-long canoe is made of mahogany, mango and Brazilian ipe, weighs about 220 pounds and is a mixture of both of their backgrounds. Kunato was born in Papua New Guinea, while Hanson moved to Hawaii 23 years ago. The finished product offers a taste of their different styles and personalities.

“It thrills me to death to be able to represent where I come from,” says Kunato. “This project represents my wood-carving and my love for oceanic arts.”

“The hull is from Hawaii, the carving and designs on the gunnels are from Fiji and New Guinea, and the way the ama is connected to the canoe is something you’d see in the Marquesas Islands,” says Hanson. “We fused together the different designs and styles of the South Pacific.”

Hanson and Kunato tested the vessel several times at Anini Beach on Kauai to ensure it was safe and sound. He says it didn’t take long for the new vessel to draw a crowd.

“We paddled it around, and some visitors at the beach started coming off the street and were really excited about it,” says Hanson, who is a member of Hanalei Canoe Club. “We took them out one at a time, and then we let a couple go out by themselves and the husband handled the canoe very well. It’s a canoe made for a lagoon setting and the conditions at Anini are similar to what they’ll see in Waikiki.”

The canoe recently arrived on Oahu, where the pair reassembled it in a few hours, then spent some time instructing staff on maintenance and care of the new vessel.

“It’s a commercial canoe, so we bolted a few things together, but we also used traditional lashing for the ‘iakos and the ama,” says Hanson. “I think wedding and honeymoon photographs will show up well. I heard they plan on using the canoe Nov. 1.”

And while Elvis isn’t expected to be there, that doesn’t mean a handsome groom can’t croon the Hawaiian Wedding Song.

For more information on Kunato, go to his website: oceaniacarving.com.