Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

Kino's Canoe

Story by Derek Ferrar. Photos by Bailey Rebecca Roberts.

Austin Kino was a junior in high school in 2005 when he went on his first sail aboard the Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hōkūle‘a as part of a youth program—and immediately got seasick. Despite this “initiation,” as he calls it, Kino soon became committed to the Polynesian voyaging movement, and today he’s an apprentice navigator who crewed on several legs of Hōkūle‘a’s recent historic voyage around the world. For the last year and a half, Kino has been sharing a taste of the voyaging experience with visitors on sailing canoe tours he runs off the beach at The Kahala Hotel & Resort in East Honolulu.

Guests recline languidly on canvas stretched from the double outriggers of Kino’s thirty-foot, bright red fiberglass canoe Uluwehi as he nudges a steering paddle to thread a passage in the reef out into Maunalua bay. The canoe can make it through the reef only at high tide, Kino says,“so nature dictates the timeline” of the hour-long tours. Dipping lithely between swell peaks, the craft offers a surprisingly smooth ride, sparing passengers the green gills of Kino’s own first time out.

Out on the water, the occasional sunglass and slipper model offers a primer of voyaging knowledge, such as the way navigators use wave patterns to track their course between sun and star sightings. “My teachers always said, ‘If you can learn the waves, you’ll never be lost,” says Kino. In light winds, passengers can hop into the main hull and take a turn helping to paddle the canoe along.

The tours are an outgrowth of a non-profit Kino founded several years ago to help kids experience nature and traditional culture along Maunalua bay, where he grew up. “When I was young I didn’t know anything about the things people were doing to preserve the environment and culture in this area,” he says. “So now we want to get as many kids as we can out planting native plants, working to restore a fishpond or getting out on the bay in a canoe.” The message he gives the kids is the same one he shares with visitors on his Holokino canoe tours: “There was once a lot of valuable ancient knowledge in this area, and we’re trying to bring some of it back.”