Holly and Iko share their love of Hawaiian culture, ocean through their tour company Anelakai Adventures

  • (Anelakai Adventures/Courtesy Photo)
  • (Anelakai Adventures/Courtesy Photo)
  • (Anelakai Adventures/Courtesy Photo)
  • (Anelakai Adventures/Courtesy Photo)
  • A canoe with guides and guests tour Keauhou Bay. (Anelakai Adventures/Courtesy Photo)
  • Holly and Iko are the husband and wife team behind Anelakai Adventures. (Anelakai Adventures/Courtesy Photo)

The Wa’a or outrigger canoe was the original mode of transportation in the Hawaiian Islands. Entrepreneurs Holly and Iko founded Anelakai Adventures as a way to share their love of the canoe, the ocean, and the incredible sea creatures — like manta rays — that live in Kona’s waters.

Anelakai Adventures offers unique night time manta ray snorkel and viewing tours out of Keauhou Harbor in their beautifully built double-hulled canoes.

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Amanda, Big Bertha and Kenzie are just a few of the gentle giants that frequent Keauhou Bay — weighing as much as 2,000 pounds, with a wingspan as large as 15 feet. There are over 250 recorded manta rays that inhabit the Kona area. They can be identified by distinct spotted patterns on their bellies and small deformities like a defiantly curled fin tip. The graceful creatures backflip and glide through the water, feeding on billions of phosphorescent plankton that light up the bay in an other-worldly show. Oh, and they like singing.

Access, and the ability to share this amazing experience with individuals of all abilities is a cornerstone of the company’s mission. The special design of the canoes provides guests who cannot enter the water with a close up view of the manta rays. An intelligent support system is designed for snorkelers in the water, helping them stay effortlessly afloat and attached to the vessel. The dynamic maneuverability of the canoe compared to a motorized boat allows the guides to follow the movement of the rays and position guests in just the right spot. All company guides are certified lifeguards.

“Our goal is to share the magic of the mantas with people of all abilities, whether you get in the water with a mask and snorkel or stay in the canoe and enjoy the view. This allows non-swimmers, children, and those with special needs to have the experience as well,” Holly said.

The couple founded the company in 2010 after their 5-year-old daughter Anelakai pointed to their collection of surfboards, canoes, and other ocean toys in their yard and said, “This is going to be your business.”

Following his daughter’s lead, Iko threw his longtime construction business out at the Kona dump and jumped head-first into the ocean. He set up shop in their garage to build canoes, while Holly worked selling timeshare to fund their new business venture. Their vision behind the business was two-fold: to create a way to give back, and to be able to spend more time together as a family. The couple met in 1997 surfing at Pine Trees beach, and have two daughters, Anelakai, 12 and Lilinoe, 5.

“My dream is to have more canoes in the water,” Iko said. “The first love of my life was the canoe.”

Iko built the company’s canoes entirely by hand, save for the fiberglass hulls. Based on the shape of traditional Hawaiian 4-man canoes used for coastal travel, the Anelakai Adventures canoes are a testament to history with modern application. Iko bent the iakos, or cross beams, using a pressure clamping system, and completed the lashings by hand. Using rope lashings, rather than nuts and bolts to hold the canoes together is traditional, with Hawaiian families developing their own distinctive lashing patterns. Lashing symbolizes keeping people together.

Each canoe hull is given a name that is significant to its origin and purpose. Kaipi’i, meaning high surf or big tides and Awa, meaning harbor, came first.

On the night the canoe was finished, Keauhou Harbor had the highest tides, or king tides of the entire year. Coincidence or a sign of approval from the ocean? The second canoe, named Hoku, (star), and Mahina, (moon), was named by the couple’s daughter.

Anelakai Adventures is part of the Pono Pledge, started in 2018 by the Hawaii Island Visitors Bureau, with Iko serving as an ambassador for the initiative. Members take a pledge to conduct their business in a manner that is respectful of the land and ocean, acknowledging the unbreakable and sacred bond between the island and its inhabitants.

“It is essential to live in harmony with each other and our aina,” Iko said of the pledge. “Being pono and living aloha are what will save our world and it is my mission to share that with every single person I encounter in my life.”

Being accountable to their community and giving back in big and small ways is important to the couple. They are involved with schools, including Innovations Public Charter school, mentoring students and providing educational opportunities through canoes. They are passionate about making their tours accessible to locals who wouldn’t normally go on a tour. They offer special kamaaina rates for local families and those visiting from neighbor islands. The company also offers daytime cultural tours that explore the rich history of the Kona coast.

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Info: visit them online at https://www.anelakaiadventures.com/ or call 987-0377.

Emily Gleason is a member of Business Network International (BNI) Alii Networkers Chapter in Kailua-Kona and helps business owners reach their dream clients at www.mthewriter.com. She contributes a monthly business feature, Imua in Business, to West Hawaii Today.