Nainoa Thompson: The West Side Is “The Most Important Place” The Hōkūleʻa Visited

Nainoa Thompson was his impossibly humble self speaking to a gathering of Hōkūleʻa fans at the Four Seasons Oʻahu on January 28. “I’m nothing,” he reminded us multiple times.

Perhaps. But when he calls someone like Jeff Stone, the developer of Ko Olina, his call gets answered. Stone and Thompson partnered to get more than 30,000 west side kids to visit Hōkūleʻa before she left on her worldwide voyage.

Why was that important? Because, according to Thompson, the Hōkūleʻa’s trip wasn’t worth the risk unless it was clear that it would mean something to the children of the west side.

“We went to 400 ports around the world,” Thompson said. “The Waiʻanae coast is the most important.”

“It’s the highest population of Native Hawaiians in the world. It’s the core of who we are.”

Asked to discuss the Hōkūleʻa’s voyage, Thompson insisted that certain people had to be “in the room,” figuratively.

The first group of people were the first seafarers, who set out from Taiwan about 5,000 years ago to populate the Pacific islands. The descendants of these seafarers, who came to Hawai’i about 2,000 years ago, had to be “in the room.” So did important figures in the early history of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, like anthropologist Ben Finney, master navigator Mau Piailug, and, of course, Eddie Aikau.

Thompson was there every step of the way, too. So why does he say “I’m nothing”?

I can’t give you an exact quote, because Thompson threaded the answer throughout his talk. To paraphrase: He sees himself as part of a seafaring tradition that started 5,000 years ago in Taiwan, and that he hopes will continue for another 5,000 years on the islands of Hawai’i.

No one person can elevate themselves above that tradition. No one can say they’re the best. If they do, how will the younger generation have the confidence to navigate voyages themselves?

After Thompson spoke, five Hōkūleʻa crew members took the stage to discuss their experiences on the canoe, including two westsiders— Kaina Nakanealoha and Sam Kapoi.

Hokulea crew speaks to audience at Four Seasons Oahu Hōkūleʻa crew members, left to right: Bryson Hoe, Sam Kapoi, Haunani Kane, Tamiko Fernelius, Kaina Nakanealoha. Photo: Ola Collective

Nakanealoha had an interesting response when someone asked about the rough weather the Hōkūleʻa faced. He argued that, when the weather was bad, that’s when the crew was at its most united. It was when the seas were calm that disagreements happened. Said Nakanealoha: “The waves aren’t on the ocean, they’re in the boat.”

Thompson had told of another west side boy, whose actions convinced him that the time for the voyage had finally come. The Hōkūleʻa was anchored at Pōkaʻī Bay, on a dark night.

A Hawaiian boy swam out to the boat, climbed up the catwalk and—without talking to anyone—curled up and went to sleep. The crew didn’t disturb him. When they woke up, he was gone.

To Thompson, this meant that west side children had accepted the Hōkūleʻa as their own. The worldwide voyage could begin.

(Featured image: Nainoa Thompson speaks with Paula Akana. Credit: Ola Collective)