Issue 9.1: February/March 2006

Paddling With A Purpose

by Marie Carvalho
photo by Monte Costa

Members of Kapu Na Keiki
paddle along the north shore

of Moloka‘i, headed toward
Kalaupapa peninsula.

“The culture ties back to the Hokule‘a,” says Francis “Lono” Kealoha, a senior at Kamehameha High School. He’s talking about the double-hulled canoe’s first O‘ahu-to-Tahiti voyage, which was navigated—without scientific instruments and across some 2,300 miles of open ocean—by Nainoa Thompson. Not only was this the first such navigation in 600 years by a Polynesian but, as Francis himself illustrates, it was also a turning point in modern Hawaiian history.

That voyage took place in 1978, before Francis was born and in the early stages of what’s now known as the Hawaiian Renaissance. As some indication of how far this renaissance has progressed, witness the voyage Francis is now involved in: He’s one of fourteen students from O‘ahu taking part in Nainoa Thompson’s recently established Kapu Na Keiki program—a 360-mile, multi-stage canoe trip that will eventually cover the leeward coasts of each Hawaiian island to raise funds for the Children’s Justice Center, a state-run facility for abused children.

“This paddle came out of me wrestling with how to use the awesome ocean environment and heritage of our canoes to benefit those who need it most,” Nainoa explains, though the program clearly benefits its young paddlers as well. None knew each other at their journey’s outset, but now, says Francis, “I’ve learned about working together, being an ‘ohana, family.”

To date, the students have covered every coast but Kaua‘i’s, logging legs of up to twenty miles (and as long as six hours) in one- and two-person outrigger canoes—which, any experienced paddler will tell you, is not child’s play.

“We’d ask, ‘Are we there yet?’ and Nainoa would say, ‘Just around the corner,’” laughs paddler and recent Wai‘anae High School graduate Ka‘ulunahenahe Samson. “And when we got to that corner, he’d say, ‘No, the one way, way down there—just around there.’”

They kept on, Ka‘ulunahenahe adds, because “The younger generation is our future.” As in any good renaissance, an old value become new.