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experimentjon
12-08-2009, 12:21 AM
The following is a true story. I am NOT on the KoAloha payroll, and am NOT a sponsored artist (I suspect it is because I have no skill at the uke.)

The first time I played a KoAloha uke was in my senior year of high school. It was a KoAloha soprano that my friend bought on eBay. He brought it to school every day, and I’d play it occasionally during my free period. Great uke, but it didn’t have enough frets to play “Gently Weeps,” which was the hot song among the uke players at our school at the time.

Later, after I learned songs that weren’t “Surf,” I purchased a used KoAloha SuperConcert that I saw on Craigslist. It was the first KoAloha that I actually owned, and it was awesome. Action was just a tad high, but that just made it even louder. The sound was good, but it was the crown bridge and crown headstock that really pushed all the right buttons for me.

Eventually, I would jump on another used uke deal for a SuperSoprano KoAloha from the early 2000’s, with a one piece back, and one piece front. And that is by far, the loudest soprano bodied ukulele that I own. Action is also a tad bit high on that one, but man, it can play as loud as concerts and some tenors by other companies.

Meanwhile, squandering much of the money I made from my jobs, I will admit that I was pandering around with all the other ukulele companies (Kanilea, Kamaka, Koolau/Pono, Fluke, Tangi, Ovation/Applause, Mele, KoaPiliKoko, Leolani). In fact, my go-to ukulele was actually a Kanilea K1 Tenor. It was the first “real” ukulele that I spent my own money on (then we all know how it’s a slippery slope into UAS.) And the K1-T is a great instrument, with probably the most beautiful finish on the entire ukulele market, and I’m probably going to keep mine forever, even long after Jake’s autograph rubs off it, just because it has so much sentimental value.

But over the past few months, I have truly come to love the KoAloha company. Their philosophy behind instrument building is inspiring, and their customer service is truly exceptional.

It started here on UU when a member who purchased a used KoAloha instrument found a few problems with it, and publicly announced the faults of the uke without disclosing that it was purchased on the secondhand market (voiding the lifetime factory warranty). But even though KoAloha was absolutely not at fault and was not obligated in any way to uphold the voided warranty, Paul and Brian still took very good care of the customer, and sent him a handpicked crème-de-la-crème uke from the newest batch as a replacement. I later asked Paul why he did it, and he told me that he just couldn’t let a customer go away dissatisfied with one of their instruments, and wanted to rectify the problem

Then the other week, while hanging out at the mall with Aldrine, and a few other members of the forum, we ran into Papa KoAloha and his wife who were doing some Christmas shopping. For the most part, we were just strangers in a mall, and all of us except Aldrine had left our ukuleles in our cars. (I guess that’s a precaution you need to take when you’re playing a priceless custom.) They both came over to say hi, because they recognized Dustin who works at the shop. But they didn’t just say hi and leave. No. Mr. Alvin Okami himself actually stopped to talk story with us for an hour or more! Honestly, how often do you get the founder of a company, take time out of his busy schedule, to come over and wholeheartedly talk story with a bunch of strangers that he sees at the mall? Insane.

The deal was sealed today, when I went to visit the KoAloha factory, to finally meet Alan in person for the first time and purchase a KoAloha Sceptre that had been picked out of the latest batch for me. If you want to follow Alan on Twitter, he is @KoAlohaUke, but here’s a warning: currently, he doesn’t tweet much about uke-building, and most of it is his day to day, occasionally including his bowel movements.

Now an aside: for your safety, I would recommend NOT trying to rob the KoAloha factory. I swear, almost everyone there carries a knife. Today, Brian had a Benchmade Tanto Griptillian, Alan had a medium sized promo blade from SnapOn, Paul had a Kershaw Scallion in a cool red finish, and who knows what else everyone else in the shop had. Their uke stash is well defended. And who knew, Alan is a big knife collector. I’ve got a few blades myself, but nowhere near what he has: one for every day of the week…for over two months. So don’t steal from them.

Anyway, I also took my SuperConcert in for an action adjustment, to fix the aforementioned high action, which Brian helped me with immediately. It plays like a dream now. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get to my SuperSoprano because he is very busy, so I left it with him, and he said that I could come pick it up the next time I visit the factory.

Then I got to see what I had come for: a KoAloha Tenor Sceptre. The scepter was a uke that I had wanted since I started playing ukulele, when I saw it in the background of a guitar shop picture; I was totally stoked to be getting one. When Alan handed me the one he had saved for me, my mind was blown. It was gorgeous, featuring a nice pattern in the wood—not quite full fledged flame/curl or quilting—but it definitely was not straight grained. A gorgeous dark koa instrument and it truly exceeded my expectations. Oh and the sound! Just wow. It offered a very wide range of dynamics, and sweet, but crisp tones. The stock KoAloha fluorocarbon strings have more of a percussive sound, which I do like, but when the time comes, I will probably end up swapping them out for Worth Clears to get a sweeter and rounder sound.

I also designed a laser engraving for the Sceptre, of my Chinese name in angular block characters, and Paul helped me to vector it, and had it engraved right in front of my eyes. The engraving machine is really cool, and works like an inkjet printer when engraving. But instead of using ink, it uses a laser and unlike inkjet ink, the engraving will last forever.

While there, I was treated like family, or as if I were a guest in their home. At one point, when I was working on the engraving, Alan even offered me coffee/tea/water. And Papa Okami even took time out of his very busy workday to talk to me personally, divulging a few sweet details about the rest of his Masterpiece line, which will eventually number 7 ukes. And I got to play both the original Jukebox prototype (which has a stunning figured koa fretboard), and a concert Sceptre which had been made for a money manager in Kuwait.

Papa KoAloha also told me about his personal philosophy in ukulele building. He tries to build his ukes to be able to have a full dynamic range from pianissimo to triple-forte. While I personally never play anything above forte, he feels that it is restrictive when you reach an expressive passage and want to use a subito dynamic change, but are limited by the instrument. So he builds his ukes to let players play at higher volumes. And he showed me how he tests each of the sopranos that he builds. Basically, he strummed it so vigorously that I was afraid it would break. It was very loud. And he said that the sound-to-pound (weight) ratio for the KoAloha soprano is the greatest in the entire KoAloha lineup—yes, even more than the Sceptre according to Pops himself.

But most importantly, he builds ukes so that people will enjoy them. He does not discriminate based on skill level, all that matters is that players enjoy the ukes that he builds. He builds so that people can play one and say “Hey, this KoAloha is really an awesome uke.” And that is the exact reaction that I got every single time I played one.

Also, after purchasing the Sceptre, Brian handed me a KoAloha Pineapple Sunday. It was beautiful: made of a blonde koa, with stunning white sap streaks. Long story short, I fell in love, and ended up running to the closest bank and taking her home with too.

Paul said that he had the dream to build KoAloha into an amazingly successful ukulele empire, with multimillion dollar annual sales. And after seeing what their company is about, and after purchasing two of the coolest ukes in the world, a Sceptre and Pineapple Sunday (which, by the way, are only made by KoAloha,) I think that he can do it. They truly build a great uke, and I would recommend KoAlohas to anyone. So I apologize in advance, if I sound like the proverbial broken record in the future when someone on the forums asks for a purchase recommendation, and I say that KoAloha is the way to go for the ten-millionth time. But believe me, every time I say it, I mean it.

Viva KoAloha.

And here are the requisite pictures.

My Pineapple Sunday and Tenor Sceptre, with my Chuck Season 1 DVD. I love that show, and can’t wait for season 3 in Spring 2010.
http://i755.photobucket.com/albums/xx195/gotakon/ssDSC_0312.jpg

Tenor Sceptre with the best financial economics textbook I have ever read. How good? Good enough for me to keep it and not sell it back to the bookstore.
http://i755.photobucket.com/albums/xx195/gotakon/ssDSC_0313.jpg

Pineapple Sunday with my intro financial accounting textbook from my first semester in college…this I still have this one just because I couldn’t sell back to the bookstore.
http://i755.photobucket.com/albums/xx195/gotakon/ssDSC_0314.jpg

My current KoAloha collection, less the SuperSoprano which is at the shop.
http://i755.photobucket.com/albums/xx195/gotakon/ssDSC_0311.jpg

guitharsis
12-08-2009, 01:05 AM
Wow. Great review and congrats!

SweetWaterBlue
12-08-2009, 01:55 AM
Thanks Jon. That was a very inspiring and informative article. It makes me want a KoAhola. Your collection is quite beautiful.

I can't say I have ever associated my old college accounting book with anything pleasurable, but looking at the prices of new KoAhohas on eBay and the Honolulu Craigslist KoAlohas still appear to be surprisingly affordable on a relative scale. I do understand the textbook thing though, as I still have (after almost 40 years) and treasure a few of my best college engineering books. Some were written by now deceased professors who I particularly liked. The KoAlohas look like they should be a good investment, as well as a treasured family heirloom that can be played and enjoyed.

Reading your story, led me do a bit of Googling on the Koa tree. The free overview of this book on the history, destruction, and now preservation of the Koa is quite interesting to anyone that is interested in this wood that KoAlohas and other fine instruments are made from. Its an amazing wood. Its hard to imagine that there are people alive that remember it being used for firewood and fenceposts before being sacrificed to the God of hamburger (grazing land for beef cattle by Westerners).

http://books.google.com/books?id=J0-uxZN9SVMC&printsec=frontcover&client=firefox-a&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=&f=false

I think if I lived in Hawaii, and owned some land, I would plant a few for my children and grandchildren.

wickedwahine11
12-08-2009, 03:11 AM
Terrific story and beautiful ukuleles.

I'm more of a Kamaka/Kanile'a fangirl myself, but I can certainly appreciate why all you fanboys love KoAloha.

Congratulations. :D

Edit: now that I am buying a Pineapple Sunday, count me among the KoAloha fangirls.

Hankthetank
12-08-2009, 05:35 AM
Wow, thanks for sharing your wonderful story. It seems that those stories are the norm for KoAloha. I hope to take a factory tour someday myself.
Thanks again

Ronnie Aloha
12-08-2009, 06:28 AM
Great story. I remember Paul inviting you down to have your action lowered. I didn't know you were picking up a Sceptre at that time! And now you add a PS too? The Okami's are a wonderful family and stories like this seem to be the norm.

So you were able to laser engrave it after the finish had already been applied? That's pretty cool! Could you post a close up shot of the engraving?

Wickedwahine, we are saving you a seat at the KoAloha table...:D

freedive135
12-08-2009, 07:20 AM
Great story!!!
Someday I too hope to make it over and do the factory tour...

For now I will just be strummin my lil' ol' KoAloha Soprano and savin for that Tenor:drool:

haolejohn
12-08-2009, 07:47 AM
Great story Jon. I can not wait until I get my PS. It ight be longer than I anticipated originally but one day. When I visited the factory back in July I became a KoAloha fan for life. I think I spent three hours talking story about ukes and God with Papa koAloha. I just contacted ukeRepublic aboput maybe getting a Ko'olau but I just don't think I can do it. Thanks Jon for sharing and spread the koAloha love.

pithaya9
12-08-2009, 08:54 AM
Great story, pretty much covers my trip to the KoAloha factory, and my visit with the family.

Pippin
12-08-2009, 10:23 AM
Nice story. I hear nothing but good things about Papa KoAloha and the whole gang, and that really says something about a company.

Uncle-Taco
12-08-2009, 02:42 PM
Wow, great tale and beauuuuutiful ukuleles! :drool: I know my KoAloha is special, and now I understand why even more.

...but you got me wanting to see those knives! :drool::drool:

dkcrown
12-08-2009, 04:17 PM
Definately want to snag a Koaloha at some point in the future and your story only confirmed it. I would love to pick up a concert but have shied away from them up til now because of the friction tuners. I know their super concerts have geared tuners but I already have a Kanilea Super C that I love. Any suggestions?

kailua
12-08-2009, 04:53 PM
Great story. You have an envious collection. :drool: One day I hope to be a proud KoAloha owner. Kinda leaning towards the PS. Almost spewed Coke all over my laptop when you mention Twittering with Alan. The older you get the more you fixate on certain bodily functions. :D

Steve vanPelt
12-08-2009, 05:38 PM
Awesome story. Awesome company. Awesome group working there.
:shaka: for the Koaloha gang.

Ronnie Aloha
12-08-2009, 07:06 PM
Definately want to snag a Koaloha at some point in the future and your story only confirmed it. I would love to pick up a concert but have shied away from them up til now because of the friction tuners. I know their super concerts have geared tuners but I already have a Kanilea Super C that I love. Any suggestions?

The KoAloha friction tuners are not a 1:1 ratio. I think they have a gearing in them so they are not as touchy as the Kamaka friction tuners. Maybe someone can verify this? I wouldn't hesitate on jumping on a concert. But I'm KoAloha honk myself.

experimentjon
12-08-2009, 07:17 PM
Great story. I remember Paul inviting you down to have your action lowered. I didn't know you were picking up a Sceptre at that time! And now you add a PS too? The Okami's are a wonderful family and stories like this seem to be the norm.

So you were able to laser engrave it after the finish had already been applied? That's pretty cool! Could you post a close up shot of the engraving?


Yeah, I was just waiting for a tenor Sceptre to come off the line before I went there, just so I could save a trip. And yes, they can engrave it even after the uke has been finished. But it leaves a slight white outline around the engraving, which I think actually looks pretty cool. I've saw one engraved before finishing, and it doesn't have the white outline, and looks a bit more natural. Depends on what you like. You can think of the white outline as a one-pixel stroke around your engraving.


Definately want to snag a Koaloha at some point in the future and your story only confirmed it. I would love to pick up a concert but have shied away from them up til now because of the friction tuners. I know their super concerts have geared tuners but I already have a Kanilea Super C that I love. Any suggestions?

I think the fear about friction tuners is overblown. They're not as precise as geared tuners, but I would take good friction pegs over a cheap set of geared tuners any day. If the tuners can hold the tuning, you won't be needing to retune too often anyway. Plus friction tuners reduce weight, make restringing faster, and give you that classic look. I say go for the concert. Their concert body sounds nice and bright.

koalohapaul
12-08-2009, 08:47 PM
Man, I thought Jon was only coming by to adjust the action on his ukes. Boy was I surprised when he bought two. Thanks for the support!

Ronnie - The frictions are 1:1. The current tuners are really smooth. They have double round/flat bushings, so there is very little slop and the turning action is buttery. We were looking for a replacement for the Schallers for years. Schaller has always treated us well, but a weakening dollar and ridiculous custom tariffs made ordering them a pain. One of our shipments was held up in customs for almost three months. We had to borrow pegs from the Kamakas to keep running.

dkcrown
12-09-2009, 02:37 AM
The KoAloha friction tuners are not a 1:1 ratio. I think they have a gearing in them so they are not as touchy as the Kamaka friction tuners. Maybe someone can verify this? I wouldn't hesitate on jumping on a concert. But I'm KoAloha honk myself.

Thanks for the reply Ronnie

dkcrown
12-09-2009, 02:40 AM
Man, I thought Jon was only coming by to adjust the action on his ukes. Boy was I surprised when he bought two. Thanks for the support!

Ronnie - The frictions are 1:1. The current tuners are really smooth. They have double round/flat bushings, so there is very little slop and the turning action is buttery. We were looking for a replacement for the Schallers for years. Schaller has always treated us well, but a weakening dollar and ridiculous custom tariffs made ordering them a pain. One of our shipments was held up in customs for almost three months. We had to borrow pegs from the Kamakas to keep running.

Thanks for the info Paul. Just curious why you guys don't use geared tuners on your concerts and long neck sopranos?

haolejohn
12-09-2009, 03:27 AM
Thanks for the info Paul. Just curious why you guys don't use geared tuners on your concerts and long neck sopranos?

I don't know the answer but I have a tenor sceptre , a koaloha concert, and a long neck soprano. The concert ans soprano have the friction tuners and I very rarely have to tune them at all. The only difference that I have noticed in tuning is that the frictions are a little more sensetive to turning. If I turn to fast it really affects the tuning. I love my koaloha friction tuners.

UkeNinja
12-09-2009, 04:38 AM
That's a nice read there. And wow... buying two of them in one visit? Good customer!

Do you have a close up of the engraving? It is barely visible in the pics you put up and I'm curious...

CoLmes
12-09-2009, 05:00 AM
Real cool story, makes me wish I lived in Hawaii even more.

Can we get a picture of the engraving?

experimentjon
12-09-2009, 05:48 PM
http://i755.photobucket.com/albums/xx195/gotakon/DSC_0314.jpg

Not a new pic, but I just zoomed in and cropped. Decided to go with a blocky style rather than a script style.

thejumpingflea
12-09-2009, 08:09 PM
http://i755.photobucket.com/albums/xx195/gotakon/DSC_0314.jpg

Not a new pic, but I just zoomed in and cropped. Decided to go with a blocky style rather than a script style.

I dig it a lot!

Kaneohe til the end
12-11-2009, 10:26 PM
sheez, even i want one now. :rolleyes:
i guess i dont really need to say it, but jon sure is one helluva good customer.

koalohapaul
12-12-2009, 12:00 AM
Did you want one with the same characters engraved? Cause I can hook you up.


sheez, even i want one now. :rolleyes:
i guess i dont really need to say it, but jon sure is one helluva good customer.

haolejohn
12-12-2009, 05:37 PM
http://i755.photobucket.com/albums/xx195/gotakon/DSC_0314.jpg

Not a new pic, but I just zoomed in and cropped. Decided to go with a blocky style rather than a script style.

The white outline doesn't look bad at all. Hmmmmm...Should I send my sceptre to KoAloha and have an engraving on mine?

strings
12-13-2009, 05:28 AM
Thanks for a great article. I'm a new member on this forum, and will start to learn to play tomorrow, if my used (I mean pre-loved) KoAloha arrives in the mail as promised by UPS. It's a KC-00 concert made in 1997, all koa. I guess luck was with me in choosing this brand. It was a difficult decision with all the wonderful product out there.

Bill

experimentjon
12-14-2009, 01:40 PM
The white outline doesn't look bad at all. Hmmmmm...Should I send my sceptre to KoAloha and have an engraving on mine?

Do it, especially if you've got a cool design in mind. I think for something that you're going to keep forever, it makes it way more special. And even if it's just your name in script letters, it'll look great.

experimentjon
01-05-2010, 11:46 PM
To avoid making a new thread, I'm posting my latest KoAloha here.

I got a sweet and rare KoAloha Tenor today in a trade for my final classical guitar. I never played my classical, so although it was a really nice one, and had flame mahogany back and sides, I let it go, and added a bit of cash on my side to pick up this KoAloha Tenor. It is stamped Oct 2003 and has the old crown label on the inside, and is a factory second. But it is not like any of the KoAloha tenors that you will find today, so I thought it was worth sharing.

Unique features include:
One piece top
One piece back
One piece sides
Plastic fretboard binding
Asymmetrical Neck Profile (Think the newest Gibson Les Pauls)
String through bridge
One piece crown bridge
Wavy Koa Top Grain

I had to do about two hours of setup on it though, before I got it in playing condition, since the previous owners didn’t really do much maintenance on it. One big sign was that the strings were wrapped improperly at the tuning posts. So I took them off. The frets were the most disgusting frets I have ever seen. They were completely black, and I have no idea how they got like that unless the previous owner just lived close to the ocean and left the uke out every day. Think Fluke-plastic-fretboard black. No signs of silver gleam anywhere. So I restored them back to their original shine with ultra fine steel wool. Action was quite high, about 1mm above where I liked it at the 12th fret, and too high at the nut as well, so I lowered it down to where I like it by sanding the nut and saddle. It was definitely scary doing the nut, since there’s no elegant undo button there. I chickened out so didn’t get it all the way down to where I wanted, but it still feels good. And nothing went wrong, no buzz at all. I restrung it with Worth Clear CTs.

Let me tell you, that this definitely has the signature KoAloha sound. I would describe it as boomy and deep. It seems to bring out the bass notes, and I suspect that I should have put a low G on this instead of high G. It is distinctly different from the tone of a Kamaka Tenor or Kanilea Tenor. And has more volume headroom than either of them. And speaking of volume, this one doesn’t seem to like to play at anything quieter than maybe mezzo piano, and is gets the best tone at mezzo forte to fortissimo. It really is one of those ukuleles that you just need to play out. And the body seems to bring out the percussive parts of your strum. So a unique instrument to be sure.

The next two posts have the requisite pics.

http://i42.photobucket.com/albums/e308/Experiment_Jon/koaloha/SSL20761.jpg
Nice wavy grain pattern with figure that goes ALL THE WAY across the one piece top. Looks even better in person.

http://i42.photobucket.com/albums/e308/Experiment_Jon/koaloha/SSL20760.jpg
One piece back, rather plain. And you can see why this is probably a factory second, with the dark wood irregularity on the left hand side of the back. But this is still the only one piece tenor top and back I’ve ever seen.

http://i42.photobucket.com/albums/e308/Experiment_Jon/koaloha/SSL20767.jpg
One piece sides. Note no joint seam in the middle. I bet that was one long piece of koa.

http://i42.photobucket.com/albums/e308/Experiment_Jon/koaloha/SSL20768.jpg
The plastic binding all the way around the fretboard seems to be one piece with rounded corners. Doesn’t look as traditional as their current wood binding, but the white outline makes the fretboard stand out from far away. The sharpie mark in the corner of the label indicates factory second.

experimentjon
01-05-2010, 11:47 PM
http://i42.photobucket.com/albums/e308/Experiment_Jon/koaloha/SSL20757.jpg
Here’s the really cool part. I’ve seen some of these bridges before, and this is my first experience with one. You need to string the end through the hole into the body, then tie the knot. And you’ll want to tie all the knots for the strings before you tension them, so your hand can fit in the soundhole. No bridge lifting problems here. It looks like a single piece bridge, unlike their current crown bridge which I think uses two pieces. Not sure if these bridges have any tone advantages. I know that bridge pin bridges have some advantage dealing with the string tension vector, and how the stress is distributed on the soundboard, and I’d assume this has similar advantages.

http://i42.photobucket.com/albums/e308/Experiment_Jon/koaloha/SSL20758.jpg
Darkened chrome is one of my favorite Grover tuner finishes.

http://i42.photobucket.com/albums/e308/Experiment_Jon/koaloha/SSL20764.jpg
Side, you can see a small knot there, another reason this is a second.

http://i42.photobucket.com/albums/e308/Experiment_Jon/koaloha/SSL20763.jpg
The other side.


And bleh, looking at these pictures makes me realize how much better the DSLR is than my ancient point and shoot at taking pictures. The ones of my sceptre and pineapple sunday were taken with a Nikkon D40 (inexpensive DSLR), whereas these pics were taken by my 2006 Samsung Digimax i6, a trusty camera, but just not as good. XD

pithaya9
01-06-2010, 07:37 AM
What a great find Jon. Love the one piece and the string thru bridge. I'll take a KoAloha second anytime.

Jack

chrisukulele
02-05-2010, 12:22 AM
have you had any problems with warping on the sunday and sceptre? every single one of my friends who have a sceptre or a sunday are experiencing problems with warping and bridges popping off and i dont know if its a common issue or just coincidence...any thoughts?

experimentjon
02-05-2010, 01:10 AM
have you had any problems with warping on the sunday and sceptre? every single one of my friends who have a sceptre or a sunday are experiencing problems with warping and bridges popping off and i dont know if its a common issue or just coincidence...any thoughts?

I'm pretty sure your friends just got unlucky. I've got five KoAlohas now, and none of them have any warping problems or bridges popping off. I've only had the PS and Sceptre for a few months now, but I can't imagine the bridge popping off. Especially with the simple, and time tested PS bridge design. I've got some ancient ukes that have the same bridge, and that have been beaten into the ground, and that bridge is still fine. I know one member here had a problem with minor bridge seperation on his concert sceptre with crown bridge, but it was minor, and it didn't come close to popping off. And KoAloha fixed it for free. So if your friends are on Oahu, and their instrument is covered by the original waranty, they can just take it in and get it fixed.

As for warping, I think that's strange in Hawaii. I don't do anything special with any of my instruments, and have not experienced any warping. At most, there is the natural bellying behind the bridge, and maybe some sinking of the wood between the soundhole and the bridge, but that's normal for any instrument. I haven't seen that on any of my KoAlohas though, because they are still relatively young, and that's a phenomenon for older instruments.

hawaiianmusiclover06
02-05-2010, 02:04 AM
What a great story about KoAloha Ukuleles Jon. I love the engraving on the sceptre. Its awesome. I am becoming a KoAloha fan. I just recently purchased a KoAlana with Briam and Alan is hooking me up with a deal for the pickup and engraving. I can't wait to see it. Still need to go to KoAloha first of all.

raecarter
02-05-2010, 06:27 AM
That was a brilliant read thank you for posting. One day I hope to go on holiday to Hawaii