Kai Bartlett is a pro paddler, wait is there such a thing? Well, if there ever was a pro, Kai would fit the bill. From coaching and leading Team Primo to countless victories, to numerous Kaiwi Solo Championships, designing canoes, and simply being an advocate of outrigger canoe paddling, Kai is living the paddlers dream. Talking to Kai you can sense his unwavering commitment to the sport. His intense training, time invested perfecting his craft, is second to none. But what matters more than anything is his family, and living the way of life that the ocean provides.
THE JOURNEY TO HERE
“Paddling is more than a sport, it’s a way of life, everything from training with the club to fishing trips with the Ohana”
Kai’s mantra.. it resonates in the na’au. Another big focus of his life right now is his growing family. His daughter, Lea, started her first year at the Hawaiian Canoe Club Kamali’i program, around the same time that Kai’s son was born. At 20″, 8lbs 3oz, with hands that are ready to grip a canoe paddle, Kaiakea made his arrival. Talking to Kaiakea’s mom, Kealani Bartlett, she tells me the significance of his name, which has roots in Molokai and the Kimball family. While the meaning for ‘kai’ is well known, ‘akea’ is less known but is commonly used as a joining word in the Hawaiian language, ‘Olelo Hawai’i. With multiple interpretations based on usage. Kaiakea can be interpreted as ‘spacious ocean’ or ‘wide ocean’. The fact that Kai and Kea is embedded in the name was a cute coincidence, but also, it brings a story of two paddlers who found each other and became a family.
(note: Kahako should be used in the word Kaiakea, however might not display properly in your browser at this time)
“I dream of getting him out there, once Mom approves, and teach him about the ocean and throw in some fishing excursions into the mix as well.”
Kai is in a new phase of his life. It reminds me of what uncle Kimokeo Kapahulehua once said “one day you will find totality, and you need this experience to get there” I had a difficult choice ahead and needed this perspective to get through. Seems to me that Kai has also had his share of life’s journey, totality and clear perspective is where we find him now. Flowing is the vast clear space of the ocean of life, but with a mission ahead and a family at his side.
A New Mission
After years of consideration and planning it was finally time. Time to build a canoe for his family. Time to break out of the OC1 mold and expand into a new craft that brings together his gained knowledge and renewed perspective.
“Their are some nice OC2’s out there, but I wanted to make something that suited specific goals. If I’m going to build something that works for me and Kea.. or Lea and Kaiakea to use, I want something I can also race in with the boys.” You know they say that two are better than one, Mike Giblin and Kai have been working together to build canoes and improve quality, performance and accessibility for worldwide customer base.
In a yearly tradition they compete in the M2M with daughters Lea and Keala on the Tempest OC2. Sharing the sport and enjoying time together, they seem to have twice as much fun as everyone else out there.
“My inspiration behind designing the Gemini is my family. My Wife and Daughter, because we always have fun together on the water and that’s where it starts.”
I asked Kai if there is a performance goal in his latest canoe design, “The main focus behind the Gemini design was to have a universal OC2 that excelled in a variety of conditions, supports the paddlers comfort zones, and has an appealing look and feel.”
I’m at the The Gorge Race this weekend, the debut of the very first production Gemini. I have no idea how this boat performs yet, but wow, this wa’a looks sweet! Everything I like about the Ares, but twice the capacity. I also notice some of the features from the Tempest. Kai and Mike collaborated on this design, the tooling and interfacing of the canoe, as they do, which brings together all the best they both have to offer.
Kai took his time with the process to make sure the main bullets were nailed down. Even now, the production manager Brian Dalbey is standing by Kai taking notes at the first trial run of the production Gemini OC2 Canoe, everything is considered, Kai’s feedback goes right back to improvements on every feature and detail. The job of improvement, in every aspect of design and production, never stops.
“We did a bunch of tests in every condition and with a variety of paddlers. Our goal; to get a well rounded plate of data points and feedback. We made some changes all along the way as we learned what worked and what needed improvement. We wanted to see what could happen if we pinched here and added there. We really like what we accomplished and I am confident that the design was done correctly and our goals reached. She really is a great canoe.”
THE TEST DRIVE
I’m watching from the shore as Kai Bartlett and Will Reichenstein take her out for a spin. The splash off the nose has that telltale sign of smooth efficiency. The ama sits perfectly and with ease. The sharp entry of the bow slices clean. The volume in the back holds the nose just right when the front waterline drops.
“It’s like riding the Ares” says Will “The cockpit is exactly the same and just as comfortable.” I notice the seats are inset in the cockpit, a small feature that makes a big difference for us paddlers who like to have that hip control. “You feel snug in the seat and in the big stuff you don’t feel like you’re going to get bucked out of the canoe” Will says with confidence.
I asked Will about technique, waterline, and if a different paddle size would be necessary “Not at all, I felt like I was in my Ares, this is going to change things for people who have been on the fence about OC2.”