Finding My Way – Nainoa Thompson

Finding My Way
Nainoa Thompson

by Sam Liow

Becoming a Crew Member for the First Voyage to Tahiti

It was the first year I was paddling for the Hui Nalu Canoe Club, and I happened to be at the right place at the right time. Herb Kane was living across the canal from the club at Maunalua Bay. It was 1974, and Herb, Tommy Holmes, and Ben Finney were designing Hokule’a. The canoe hadn’t been built yet, but they had a smaller canoe then, and they’d ask us to paddle it out of the canal over the reef into the open ocean. That was great! I was at the club every day so I could paddle the canoe out.

Then one day, Herb invited two of the paddling coaches and me over to his house. Herb’s house was filled with paintings and pictures of canoes, nautical charts, star charts, and books everywhere, interesting books! Over dinner Herb told us how they were going to build a canoe and sail it 2,500 miles without instruments-the old way. “We’re going to follow the stars, and the canoe is going to be called after that star,” Herb said, pointing to the star Hokule’a (Arcturus). This voyage would help to show that the Polynesians came here by sailing and navigating their canoes-not just happening to drift here on ocean currents or driven by winds. The voyage would do something very important for the Hawaiian people and for the rest of the world.

In that moment, all the parts connected in me that had seemed unconnected in my life. I was twenty and looking for something challenging and meaningful to do with my life. I had a hard time finding that inside the four walls of a classroom. Here it was-the history, the heritage, the stars, the ocean, and the dream… there was so much relevance in that dream. I wanted to follow Herb; I wanted to be part of that dream.

Herb told us what the requirements would be to sail to Tahiti. We would have to go through a training program in which we would learn all about the canoe and how to sail her, and there would be physical training and training in teamwork. They would select the best 30 from the several hundred who participated in training.

When Hokule’a was completed in the spring of 1975, I participated in the training and was assigned to the return crew. If I want to do something, I can be very disciplined. My dream was coming true.