It’s been said that he single handedly revived the art of ancient Hawaiian canoe making.
Master canoe builder Sonny Bradley has been perfecting his craft since 1976. His passion and knowledge for the art form combined with his life long love of paddling has helped him bring joy to thousands of people and countless canoe clubs. And not just here in Hawaii.
“In Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand, you name um. We have canoes and uh, it’s just so happy to see these people, so happy to use these canoes. And anything I can do to provide it, I’m just so happy to do it,” said master canoe builder, Sonny Bradley
Although he really can’t tell you exactly how many canoes he’s built, he knows its well into the hundreds. Most of them fiber glass and a handful of koa. But no matter what the material, all Bradley canoes are delivered with one key ingredient.
“Every canoe we build we try put some money in it for the club and we meet the people who are buying it and we know the people where it’s going for. So we try to put our love into it. Every club has a different color and so when we build it we have that feeling for the canoe. And when they come to pick it up and you see the people so happy and then you know it’s not so difficult giving it away when they’re so happy.”
Thanks to developing technology Bradley can turn a fiber glass canoe in 7 to 8 days. But if given a choice he prefers to follow in the footsteps of ancient Hawaiians, using koa and only using fallen trees.
“To go out in the forest, get this log, carve it, cut it open and let this canoe out. And then when you see it, you say ‘ho here it is, just let it out.’ You know, it’s perfect. The mana that you feel when you go out and get it and the energy that you feel when you try to grasp this thing is ah. I gotta find this word for it, it’s, it’s unbelievable.”
Crafting a koa canoe can take upwards of a year and a half but when he gets the rare opportunity Bradley cherishes every minute of the process because he knows he’s dealing with something that was once very much alive.
“We start from about 8 to 10 ton pieces of the wood and end up down to 425 pounds. What I do, I try to take every part of this wood that I can save to build this canoe, to build paddles, to build any part that I need for this canoe without trying to waste anything.”