Gerry and I recently returned from a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, where we first learned of the Koa tree, and immediately fell in love with the wood. Hawaii is the only place on earth (so far) where the Koa tree is found, and only grows at altitudes between 1500 and 6000 feet. We never actually saw a tree because we basically stayed at sea level (hey, it’s Hawaii with an ocean and sandy beaches, and we live in Arizona!) but we did visit several galleries and even a lumber yard to purchase a block of wood for a wood-turning friend.
The Koa tree can reach heights as tall as 49-82 feet, with a spread of 20-39 feet. I’m told that it can even grow as tall as 98 feet in some of the volcanic areas. Since the Big Island is mostly volcanic, I assume there are several that reach 98 feet. The tree is actually called Acacia Koa and is a member of the pea family (imagine that!) and the leaves look like pea pods. But what is so beautiful is the wood itself; it can have a variety of grain, ranging from plain to curly to fiddlestick. Colors can be reds to chocolate browns.
Ancient Hawaiians used Koa for carving canoes, paddles and surfboards. Yes, surfboards! I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen petroglyph drawings of surfers and surfboards at the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve. Today Koa is used used for making furniture, ukeleles, acoustic guitars, bowls and pens, and I assume they still make surfboards. I saw a photo of Taylor Swift at one of the galleries with an acoustic guitar made of Koa.
I don’t have any photos of anything made of Koa because I promised the gallery owners I wouldn’t post any of the photos I took on the internet. But I did take a couple of pictures of raw boards of curly Koa I saw at the lumber yard.
Oh, by the way, in Hawaiian Koa means brave, bold, fearless, warrior. I kind of like the sound of that.