“Moving to Bend was straight up: let’s find a cool place to live,” recalls Meg Chun from behind her desk at their company’s headquarters. “It was more about lifestyle and weather.”
Dave sums up their decision to come to Bend just as simply, “Hey, there’s a mountain; our friends will come visit us.”
According to the Chuns, the company now sells around 10,000 paddles annually. The majority (around 65 percent) come from its line of stand-up paddleboard paddles. Outrigger paddles, which the company started with, now only make up around 30 percent of their sales. Dragon Boat paddles account for the rest. All of their design, assembly, shipping and administrative offices are based out of a warehouse complex east of the Old Mill. They now employ 12 full-time staff members and subcontract other positions in the area.
While still small by most measures, the company’s growth has exceeded their wildest expectations—thanks in large part to stand-up paddling’s explosion in popularity.
“We didn’t have a business plan in 1992,” says Meg who cofounded Kialoa Paddles with her husband Dave. “We never had a dream that we would have this.”
Paddle-making started as a hobby back in Hawaii for Dave. He says that while outrigger paddling was popular there, it was difficult to get gear for such a niche market.
“Builders were guys working out of someone’s garage. You would buy from someone you know.” It’s that close knit paddling culture that captivated him and Meg.
The couple moved to Bend in 1992 when Meg found a teaching job. Initially both worked day jobs while Dave built paddles out of a workshop in their house. In the mid ‘90s, they opened up their first workshop in what is now the Old Mill area, prior to its redevelopment. When the retail makeover began, Kialoa operations moved to Redmond for a few years before returning to Bend.
Dave credits the expansion of their company in part to the transition from all-wood paddles to carbon fiber composites and to their entry in the stand-up paddle market.
Dave says he has renowned surf icon and Bend resident Jerry Lopez to thank for that. Around 2003, Lopez connected Chun with fellow surfing celebrity Laird Hamilton. Hamilton was looking for someone to build him a stronger paddle for paddle surfing, a spin-off of traditional surfing that was just beginning to gain in popularity. Hamilton had been breaking paddles and was looking for a more durable alternative. Dave was unfamiliar with the nascent sport, but welcomed the challenge. It’s that challenge, to make tough but elegant paddles, that has kept him at it for over 20 years now.
According to Meg, Kialoa Paddles are now distributed to 350 retailers nationwide, including REI, which is planning to double the number of stores that carry Kialoa paddles. The paddles are also sold at local retailers, including Stand Up Paddle Bend and Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe. With the increased popularity of paddle boarding Dave and Meg are confident in the direction Kialoa is headed. “We’re growing every year,” says Meg.