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Kai Wa’a Lele OC6 Ama - Bridging the Past, Present, & Future

In honor of the first HCRA State Championships featuring our Lele OC6 Ama since it was introduced, we sat down with Tiger Taylor of Tiger Canoes - who manufactures our Lele OC6 Ama and new Lele OC6 Veneer Ama - to do a deep dive on all things ama.

We can't thank the paddling community enough for all of your support so far, and are proud to have several canoe clubs across Hawai'i competing with our new Lele OC6 Veneer Ama at Hilo this year!

Manu O Kekai Canoe Club warming up in their Koa canoe on Friday evening - featuring a Lele OC6 Veneer Ama by Tiger

Jumping right into it, please see our Q&A with Tiger below!

Why is there a need for veneer amas? What are the current guidelines HCRA has on racing canoes at states?

Essentially they are trying to bridge the gap between tradition and available people who can build equipment. It comes down to the fact that there are very few people who build custom amas - talking about custom amas and not molded. Back in the day it was a chunk of wood and it was carved down but not very competitive. The next best thing - we have these molded things, these molded amas, and how can we bridge this with the tradition. By putting veneer into a molded ama it gives a bridge between the past and the present. 
The race rules are actually somewhat ambiguous, there isn’t a clear black and white rule. When you look at the rules they discuss amas but they do not talk about a veneer ama perse. The rule appears to have been written prior to veneer amas being available.
Basically the rules say that the ama has to be constructed of Native Hawaiian, indigenous woods, and that before you paint it that HCRA - one of their race rules people approve you painting it, to make sure it conforms. In that spirit they want my amas that I built - which are veneer amas that are molded, they want to know that there is wood in them.
I actually have to send photos during construction, that verifies that there is more than just the little piece of veneer that you can see from the outside. The rule is a little bit open to interpretation, and when veneer amas first came along, people only saw a molded ama, and nothing beyond that.
Over here on the Big Island, Moku race rules say that amas must be hand-built, so a molded ama does not meet the current race rules. Moku rules allow for a stripped over stations built ama, and I am working on one right now that I am up to 120 hours of labor so far and it’s not done yet. So we're talking in l excess of 120 hours to complete a single strip built ama."

Our beautiful strip built Lele ama on display at Hilo bay - built for Moku O Keawe for Doug Pumatay and Paddlers of Laka

How is constructing a veneer ama different than a regular carbon fiber hand layup? Does it take longer?

Tiger: "Yes, it takes considerable time. When I do a carbon fiber / epoxy layup, it is all done one time - boom. But when I do the veneer amas, I do the veneer portion first, bag it, and then come back to finish it out. I have to document that it has wood in it, take photos, and there is a lot of labor to get it to an acceptable quality level after it comes out of the mold.
When it comes out of the mold, there can be air bubbles, it might not look good at first glance, but they are expensive and I want to make sure that the customer feels like they are getting their money’s worth and acceptable quality. I want them to be happy and want to buy more than just one.
Lot more finish work involved."

How many Kai Wa’a Lele veneer amas have you manufactured so far?

Tiger: "We’ve manufactured nearly 50 Lele amas in total, and the veneer amas we are at 6 so far, all in Hawai’i - on Maui & Oahu."

A few close ups of our Lele OC6 Veneer Ama made for Keahiikahoe Canoe Club

What are some of the challenges you have had with constructing the veneer ama?

Tiger: "The biggest challenge I’ve had is when you pull the part out of the mold, it turning out clean and perfect - you don’t see any air bubbles or voids in the wood. I’ve yet to have one turn out absolutely perfect, it can be a lot of correction time spent, real labor-intensive, getting it to the finish quality that I want.
One of the challenges has been more about the iakos, I have a good friend in Hilo who builds wonderful quality parts, he has been extremely busy because I’ve slammed him with all kinds of stuff. He is the guy I trust and he does really good quality stuff. Going by HCRA rules, the amas have to pass but the iakos have to pass too."

How has manufacturing the Lele ama been going so far?

Tiger: "These were launched right around Queen Lili’uokalani race last year, and it’s just been gang busters ever since. For me as a builder I don’t like asking people to wait months for something, but sometimes I can’t help it. It’s not so bad during the off-season, but it gets tough during race season and people want them quickly to be able to race with them."

What are some of the exciting moments you have had while constructing the veneer ama?

Tiger: "Probably the most exciting aspect is when you remove the part from the mold - you don’t know what it looks like until it comes out. It’s built backwards, so you go from the outside in, and you don’t fully know what it looks like until it comes out of the mold. That is your wow moment - or your throw it away moment. There’s been times where we take something out of the mold and it’s perfect on one side and the other side would take too much time to correct and make good."

What has the response been for clubs who have gotten to use their Lele amas so far? Any feedback?

Tiger: "Everybody has been stoked, they are really happy with the ama, the performance has been off the charts, there hasn’t been a single negative thing said about it."

A few details of our Lele OC6 Veneer Ama built for Hawaiian Canoe Club

What is the typical turnaround time for ordering a Lele ama?

Tiger: "Probably 6-8 weeks, some of them can be a little bit longer depending on if you need a veneer ama or a Lele. I’m going to try to get as many done for the upcoming Distance season as I can."

What was the process of working with Kai?

Tiger: "Kai approached me about making the ama, and I knew the ama was good because he had been testing it for a number of years, so we just started talking and made it happen. The process has been great so far, and we both want to put something out there that is the best quality possible. This is going to be the ama to have for a long time."

Mahalo to Tiger for sitting down with us and answering our questions!

As always if you have any questions about the Lele OC6 Ama, or would like to place an order for your club, please do not hesitate to contact us or Tiger for more info.


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