Al Van Gieson

KIALOA 'Elele in Hawaii

Ambassador: Al Van Gieson

How did you come to know KIALOA?

I was introduced to Dave by a good friend of ours, Craig Davidson, who is also an 'elele. This was about 12 years ago now and at the time, Craig had a great relationship with Dave doing R&D on SUP and outrigger paddles. Craig had told me that I should talk to Dave and that he had mentioned me to Dave about joining the Kialoa Ohana. But Craig said that all I had to do was reach out and simply talk to dave. This was at a time when I was maturing as a top OC-1 paddler and doing well in races. So with nothing to lose I reached out and the rest is history. Dave took me under his wing and always looked out for my best interest. If he made a paddle that he thought would work well in my hands, he’d call me and I’d use it in every craft I rode to provide him with my most honest feedback. Now, I use every different kind of paddle Dave makes, SUP paddles, Outrigger, and even dragon boat blades. From being a shy and fearful local boy who was afraid to ask for anything, to being an all-around paddle athlete for Kialoa, I wouldn’t have imagined my relationship would be this fulfilling.

What does being a steward of the KIALOA brand mean to you?

It means representing a brand that is homegrown and continues to support the grassroots of the sport and culture of Hawaiian outrigger paddling. A brand that helps to push the sport beyond what we think we’re capable of without realizing how far we’ve already come because Dave is such an innovative mind.

2017 - What events will you participate in?

M2M, Kauai World Challenge, Olukai Hoolaulea, Dragon boat world championships in China (OCT). Molokai Hoe. Maybe Molokai oc-1 relay (may be a last min thing)

What community events, charity participation or other organizations are you a part of?

I serve as a coach for the Leeward Kai canoe club and also serve as a board member. I enjoy participating in the Buffalo big board surfing classic and Uncle Mel’s surf contest both held at Makaha. In particular the canoe surfing events.

What's are some of your favorite things to do?

I enjoy quiet paddles on my canoe. I also enjoy surfing, either on a longboard, sup or canoe. Cooking in the kitchen for my kids.

What's your favorite food?

Mexican food!! Street tacos & cerveza.

What music are you listening to these days – what is on your favorite playlist?

Landon McNamara, J Boog, The Green.

Favorite place to visit?

I don’t have one favorite place because I feel like there’s so much more of the world for me to explore.

How did you get started in paddle sports?

My grandparents founded Leeward Kai canoe club in 1967. The club makes 50 years this year so I’ve been around since it’s founding and have paddled most of my life.  

What is your pre-race meal?

Kim-chee fried rice with over easy eggs!! Nitrous!!

What do you like to eat/drink after paddling?

Some Kona brew always does the trick with some poke (raw fish).

Proudest paddling moment?

Watching my daughter Lilinoe finish her first Na Wahine moloka’i hoe 2016.

What was your scariest paddling experience?

My first Moloka’i hoe in 1999. It was a rough channel with howling winds and big swells. I didn’t know what to expect and it definitely opened my eyes. When it was all over and I had time to reflect on it though, I realized how much fun it was.

Tell us a little about how you train for paddling races?

These days it’s not as frequent as I used to be able to go, so I have to be selective on my workouts to maximize the opportunities. I usually do an hour in the gym about 2-3 times a week that consist of running about 25-30 mins on treadmill and then another 25-30 minutes of circuit training. The paddling is about 1 ½ to 2 hour sessions with sprints. If I can get a long surf run it, then I’ll do that instead.

Where is your favorite place to paddle?


Any paddlers you look up to?

I have a lot of paddlers that I look up to, but for paddling as a whole, I look up to my dad. I get inspired by his passion in the stories he tells about his racing days as well as the passion he puts into building something from scratch. I like running into people who love telling me old stories about my dad and his racing days.

Where did you grow up and what was it like?

Nanakuli. It’s simple and the best place to be is at the beach. Cool, clean water and a nice cool breeze makes it the focal point of the community.

What are some of the crazy fads you and your friends went through?

Flojo’s, z-cavaricchi’s, overall jeans, jams shorts.

What were some things that you and your friends did as kids?

There was a buoy about ¾ a mile offshore from nanakuli beach that was about 20-30 feet tall. My friends and I would take a canoe and paddle out to it and each take turns climbing up to the top and jumping off. It was a lot scarier than we thought once we got up there. You’re so much higher that it seems and then you’re jumping into some deep blue water and you only want to jump if the canoe was close by so you could climb back up as fast as possible for fear of getting eaten by jaws!! lol

What did you get in trouble for most when you were young?

Taking the canoe out to jump off the buoy!!

What did you do for fun as a child?

If there were not any waves, my friends and I would hike up the mountain from the Nanakuli side, then we’d hike all the way up and walk down on the Makakilo side and catch the bus from Kapolei back into Nanakuli.           

What are some qualities that you value in a person?

Fun, kind, and sharing.

What inspires you to do ‘good’ in the world?

My family. Doing the best I can to represent them and be an example to my kids.

Proudest accomplishment?

Crossing the Molokai Channel with my younger brother! 18th overall and the best result to date for my brother. Was just super stoked to see him happy and be able to be a part of it.

If you could re-experience one thing in your life, what would it be?

My wedding day. With all the stress and work that came with putting on the wedding, it was all worth it once the wedding started. Seeing my beautiful bride come to shore on the canoe and having our friends and family fill the beach to watch our ceremony was the best feeling ever.

What is something you’re really proud of and why?

LKCC being 50 years old this year. It makes me realize how fortunate we are seeing where things have come from to now. I’m proud that the club is still here and still carrying on a proud tradition of home grown ocean athletes and canoe paddlers.

Who are your heroes?

My dad. My grandpa and grandma. Uncle buff, Pete Binney, Karel Tresnak Jr., Kai Bartlett

What time of day do you like best and why?

Mornings because a new day feels like getting something new. A new ocean, a new sky, a new sunrise, fresh air, sea breeze….everything feels new.           

Any nicknames you go by?


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  • "I can't operate outside without them. My Maui Jim sunglasses have literally become a body part to me. If I'm outside without my glasses my eyes instantly know the difference. The comfort they provide my eyes make them more than worth it. But being able to see the world through any Maui Jim lens helps me to appreciate the world we live in." - Al Van Gieson


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