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An interview with… Dave Chun

Dave Chun - Kialoa Paddles

I am Dave Chun, and with my wife Meg Chun, we own Kialoa Paddles. We started Kialoa in my parent’s backyard 20+ years ago, in Kailua, Hawaii. We moved Kialoa to Bend, Oregon, in 1992. We build paddles for Outrigger, Dragon Boat and SUP. We build paddles so we can be part of the paddling experience. We blur the line between work and play and work with our friends. We value relationship over transactions and we want to build high performance paddles, which will last a lifetime.

Dave Chun - gerry lopez - Kialoa Paddles

­Where and what was your first paddle?
My first paddling experience was floating a home-made raft on the canal near my house to Kailua Beach. It didn’t end well. The volume calculations were wrong and our mastery of rope lashing was incompetent. I was 10.

My first successful paddling experience was with Kailua Canoe Club. I joined a paddling team in my 20s. As a kid, I had always wanted to paddle outrigger, but I thought I was too small. The inclusiveness of our club change not only how I thought about myself, but also how I treated others. Racing outrigger canoes and being a member of Kailua Canoe Club changed my life.

­How did you get into the SUP paddle making business?
Gerry Lopez told Laird Hamilton to give me a call. Laird called and asked if I could build a really, really long paddle. I asked him why he didn’t just get one from the last guy who built him one. He told me they had all broken. I had some aluminium tubing lying around which I used to build spearguns, so I figured even Laird wouldn’t break it. I modified one of my outrigger blade moulds and built him a paddle. The sport didn’t have a name, so we called it Stand Up Surfing. I laugh at myself because SUS was a stupid name. Traditional surfing is already a standing sport. This was in 2003.

How did you end up manufacturing paddles in Oregon?
Paddle building is not the most lucrative career and we couldn’t afford to buy a house in Hawaii. We had visited Bend, while on a rare vacation, and it reminded me of what Kailua was like when I was a child. Small, quiet, and friendly. When I first moved to Bend, I could be paid for things at the store with a check and not have to show the clerk my I.D. I love Hawaii and it will always be the place I call home. But I also love the solitude of the mountains. I am lucky my job lets me “live” in both worlds.

Dave Chun - Kialoa Paddles

In your business of paddle manufacturing, what is your proudest achievement?
I try to keep paddle building in prospective. Meg was a teacher for 12 years, and I think if we want to look at achievement, paddle building is inconsequential compared to teaching a child to read. I make toys.

But, if I had to pick a moment when I felt proud to be a paddle builder, this is it: I was working at an outrigger race in Hilo, Hawaii. The booth was super busy, and when I finally looked up; I saw this little girl and her family standing in front of me, waiting. The little girl was holding a paddle. When I finally got to talk with them, the mother told me, they had come to see me. Kialoa has an annual paddle scholarship contest for students, and their daughter had won one of the ten paddles we award. I asked the little girl if she was racing, and she told me “no”. I asked where they lived and she said “Kona”. Kona is all the way on the other side of the Big Island, 85 miles from Hilo, much of it on a slow twisting road. I asked why they had come to Hilo. She said to “thank me”.

I have made paddles for 11 World Champions, a Battle of the Paddle winner, and a Kialoa steering paddle has been in the hands of the winning Molokai to Oahu steersman the last 13 years in a row. But none of those wins compare with how we were able to make that little girl feel about herself. Simply by winning a paddle contest.

Whom do you sell most of your SUP paddles to – the North American market or is it now becoming more global?
Kialoa sells paddles in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, UK, Brazil, as well as a number of other countries, but the majority of our sales are in North America – the US and Canada.

­Where and how did you meet your business partner and world-renowned surfer, Gerry Lopez?
Gerry and I met while paddling on the Deschutes River in Bend. He was on a prone paddle board; I was training with our outrigger crew. I think the first words he said to me were “You da paddle guy?” To which I replied “You da surfer guy?”

Gerry and Kialoa are not business partners, though it may seem that way at times. Gerry is my friend and mentor. We collaborate on projects because it is fun. Our shops share a wall. Gerry shapes surf and SUP boards. I shape paddles. We are just two guys from Hawaii, doing what we have always done, blurring the line between work and play.

­How often do you now go out paddling?
As often as possible. I live in the mountains at 3500 feet of elevation, so it is snowy and cold most of the year. I’m a Hawaii guy, so when the temperature drops, I retreat to the weight room. I am also plagued by wrist and elbow problems, both sides, so I have to manage my mileage. These days I seem to be spending most of my time fly fishing on my SUP board.

­Your background is Outriggers and SUP – ever been seen in a kayak or open canoe?
Meg and I own an open canoe, but we mainly use it to take our dog Syd out for a spin. I have actually spent more time in a surf ski and a K-1 sprint kayak, than in a solo outrigger. My paddling career pre-dates the invention of the Hawaiian rough water solo outrigger. The surf ski was our only alternative for solo paddling prior to 1990 in Hawaii. I like the surf ski stroke motion and the speed. It is also easier on my worn out shoulders and elbows because of the lower arm position.

Dave Chun - Kialoa Paddles

What are your goals for the next 12 months?
I am working with a new material called CFRT, Continuous Fibre Reinforced Thermoplastic. CFRT is long strands of Carbon Fibre or Fibreglass, which we impregnate with Polypropylene, Nylon, or other polymers, as opposed to the more common resins like epoxy or polyester. We are obtaining weights, which are the same as Carbon/Epoxy, but the paddles are much more impact resistant and less expensive. We are building blades with the CFRT.

CFRT is so durable; I can beat on it with a hammer. I talk about hitting it harder than I would strike a nail. This stuff is crazy light, crazy strong and crazy affordable. The problem is it isn’t shinny like a Carbon/Epoxy blade. It looks different.

So my goal for the next 12 months is to work on gaining customer acceptance of CFRT. Here’s the deal, I work with plastic products. Carbon/Epoxy is a plastic too. Plastics pollute the earth. Plastics probably have a half-life in a garbage dump of thousands of years. The only solution I see to this problem is if I make paddles, which last a long time. My goal is to keep my paddles out of landfills. When someone gets tired of their Kialoa Paddle, I want them to sell it on E-Bay, or donate it to a paddling program, or give it to a kid. But what I don’t want is for it to break and end up in a landfill. Having to buy a paddle repeatedly because it wears out or breaks, is not good for the customer and it is not good for the earth. My goal is to build paddles, which will last a lifetime.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
In 20 years, I will be 76-years old, and I don’t know what I will be doing, but I do have an idea about how I want to live my life.

I have a friend who is a sheep rancher. His name is Gordon Clark. Earlier this year, I was visiting and he took me out to the pens where his cowboys and shepherds were using a new ultra sound machine to check the sheep for pregnancy. He told me they were using a bar code system so they could track which sheep bred the best milk producers. In the future they will pair rams and ewes based on this information. Poor milk producers will be channelled as meat livestock, and the high yield milk producers will be for the dairy industry.

While most modern ranches probably use a system such as this, what I find remarkable, is Gordon ‘Grubby’ Clark is 80-years old. Until 2005, when he closed the doors to CLARK FOAM, Gubby’s company produced almost all the foam blanks for the surfboard industry. His 55,000 acre ranch is his retirement.

Grubby is a man who is constantly looking toward the future. Grubby made enough money in the surfboard industry to live anywhere in the world, in any lifestyle he chooses. But he chooses to spend his ‘retirement’ in a mode of continuous improvement. He tells me, he has always liked “figuring things out”. Which is why, at the age of 80, he is just beginning his career as a rancher.

I’m a paddler and going on vacation, where would you recommend?
French Polynesia. The Tahitians are the best open ocean paddlers on earth. To those of us from Polynesia, Tahiti is the birth place of paddling. It is our Mecca, our Jerusalem, and our Holy Grail. And the Hinano beer isn’t bad either.

Dave Chun - gerry lopez - Kialoa Paddles

Quickies
If you could paddle with anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be?
Jeremy Clarkson. I’m a big fan of Top Gear, and I think a paddle with Jeremy would be a non stop laughing fit. The prototype paddles we send out to our testers are marked ‘STIG’, in honour of the mystery race driver on Top Gear. Why STIG? “Because, you can’t buy it and we won’t tell you what it is…”

Which one sportsman or woman has inspired you?
Abebe Bikila, 1960 Rome Olympics, Marathon champion. He was from Ethiopia and ran in his bare feet. His bare feet symbolizes that sport is about the athlete and not the equipment. Paddling is about people and experiences. Not who has the latest and greatest new gear.

Pick two celebrities to be your parents…
Mariusz Pudzianowski, five-time World’s Strongest Man, and Jennifer Nettles, lead singer for the band Sugarland. I’d like to have a stronger singing voice.

What’s on your Tivo?
Anthony Bourdain, “Parts Unknown”, I love the cinematography.

Favourite iPod track?
Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns N’ Roses.

What would you do with $100,000?
I would ask Sir Jackie Stewart, three times Formula One World Champion, if he would give me a driving lesson. I idolized him as a child.

Cats or dogs?
Dogs. The latest is Syd. We are her fourth owners. It boggles my mind that someone could have left her at the animal shelter. Syd is the kind of dog who would lie down next to you and die with you, if you shattered a leg and couldn’t hike out. I suppose there are cats that would do the same…

Dave Chun - Kialoa Paddles

Facebook or Twitter?
Facebook, but I’ve kind of lost interest. The amount of information is overwhelming. I read books obsessively, and Facebook was cutting into my reading schedule. I like books because they stimulate creative thought. I don’t get the same introspection reading about someone’s dinner at a restaurant on Facebook. It is nice to know what they ate for dinner, but it’s not inspiring material.

An ideal night out for you is?
I am an introvert and reclusive. I’m friendly and like people, but I’m happy being alone. So, an ideal night for me is being home with Meg and the Syd. Not very exciting, but how does it get any better than being with the ones you love?

What one luxury item would you take with you on a desert island?
My Ford Raptor truck. When it ran out of gas I would just sit there and stare at it.

What do you get really angry about?
People or animals being victimized. I can’t even watch this happen in a movie.

If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?
Though I am an introvert, Meg is not. So we entertain frequently. We generally serve the food tapas style. I start cooking when the guests arrive. Serve each dish when it is ready. And stop cooking when everyone has had his or her fill. My cooking style is Europe meets Hawaii.

Any broken bones?
Does the heart count? Had that happen a few times in my youth. I’ve been relatively injury free for an old guy. My main problem is my elbows and wrist. A result of too many paddles passing through my hands. But I love to build and I wouldn’t trade my job for any other. Well…unless I could sing like Freddy Mercury!

If you could be a superhero for one day, what superpower would you choose and why?
Gills to breathe underwater. I want to see what the world’s fish populations REALLY look like. As you can guess, I wonder if we might be commercial fishing a tad bit aggressively.

Favourite team?
Lanikai Canoe Club, Kailua, Hawaii. My hometown heroes. Five time winners of the Molokai to Oahu outrigger race. These men taught me the meaning of teamwork. Defeat tells us more about the heart of a champion than winning. Great racers, and even greater human beings. I have been their paddle builder since 1991.

What three words would you use to describe you?
Grateful, happy and lucky.

About thepaddlerezine (544 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler ezine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK and WindsurfingUK magazines

1 Comment on An interview with… Dave Chun

  1. Florida Town // November 30, 2015 at 6:26 pm // Reply

    I’ve been using Kialoa paddles for the past fifteen years – love them. Mahalo!

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