The Baddest Bro Ever

Five years ago, I spent summer in Hawaii. Here’s a look back …

On a misty evening in July 2006, Lisa and I spread out a blanket on the lawn at Waikiki Shell in Honolulu, waiting for the Beach Boys to take the stage to perform a benefit concert for the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Everything about the night is beautiful. A light sprinkle cools the warm South Pacific air as the north wind blows.

The Beach Boys, circa 1960s

I’ve been here three weeks now, living in a small studio cottage overrun with centipedes and above a family of 10 or so that sits in a circle in silence outside, every night. I spend my days wandering around, writing in coffee shops and trying to figure out what interviews to snag during my stay.

Before the Beach Boys take the stage, a large screen lights up with an image. A film clip shows 17,000 Tahitians waiting on the shore in 1976 as the voyaging canoe Hokule’a arrives after a 33-day journey to the seaside town of Papeete in the village of Tautira, on the northwest coast. Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug is at the helm. Hundreds of Tahitians swim out to the canoe and ride the final distance to shore. Hokule’a continues sailing from village to village along the coast and at one stop, the canoe’s stern sinks under the weight of dozens of children piling in.

Hokule’a returns to Honolulu in 24 days without Piailug or the use of modern-day instruments. For the voyage back, navigator Nainoa Thompson leads the crew.

On this evening in 2006, Thompson, dressed in a purple Hawaiian shirt, his black hair laced with gray, takes the stage. He’s now a master navigator — and will forever be the first native Hawaiian in 600 years to use non-instrument navigation to sail the open seas. The crowd around me claps and whistles.

“Nainoa Thompson,” says a man lounging on the lawn.

I turn around to find the voice and see a scruffy, middle-aged white man leaning back on his elbows.

“The baddest brother I ever met! Yes, sir! The baddest bro in the whole wide world!”

Nainoa Thompson. Yes, I realized, I absolutely had to meet this man.


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