My Blog’s Origin Story

I started this blog to support my two Kickstarter projects — read on!

Kickstarter Project No. 1

On the 29th day of Nainoa Thompson’s first voyage as a student navigator, he sees two birds fly south overhead. He orders the crew aboard the double-hulled voyaging canoe named Hokule’a to sail in the direction of their flight. These seabirds travel a short distance out to sea at dawn to eat and return to land at night, which means the canoe’s destination, Tahiti, must be nearby. At sunset, a crew member climbs the mast but does not see land.

They lower the sails, heave in the Pacific Ocean and wait.

By late the next morning, Thompson feels panicked. One of Hokule’a’s crew members saw a bird fly out of the north and Thompson, convinced the canoe passed the island during the night, has the crew reverse direction. But another man — who spied a little fish in the bird’s beak — advises him to turn back. This is nesting season and beforesunrise the feathered animal had flown out to sea to hunt for food to deliver to its babies. Later, the bird would fly out to feed itself.

The man with the wise advice is Mau Piailug, a master navigator from the tiny Micronesian atoll of Satawal who had come to the islands of Hawaii to pass on his knowledge of ancient Polynesian wayfaring, which relies on ocean swells, waves, the sun, moon, stars and seabirds to travel the open seas. Imagine: no GPS tracking, sextant, compass, not even a wristwatch. An hour passes and the shores of Tahiti appear. With it, Thompson becomes the first Hawaiian in more than 600 years to navigate a voyaging canoe using traditional wayfaring. With the 7,000-mile voyage complete, Piailug offers Thompson one last piece of advice. “Everything you need to see is in the ocean, but it will take you 20 more years to see it,” he says. “If you can read the ocean you will never be lost.”

Since that voyage in 1976, the Polynesian Voyaging Society has achieved more than 10 long-distant voyages, and an immeasurable impact on the lives and spirit of Polynesians. Hokule’a touched off a Pacific-wide movement to reawaken a lost art and a Hawaiian Renaissance to restore a lost sense of pride. The years, however, have not been without tough lessons, including the death of a beloved crew member, and the difficulty of repairing the ill effects of Western imperialism and attempting to break down the stereotype of the “Plastic Polynesian.” In 2014, the Polynesian Voyaging Society set sail for an ambitious multiyear worldwide voyage.

This blog was originally devoted to sharing this story. I sought support — through Kickstarter — for a reporting trip to Honolulu in 2011. Mahalo to my Kickstarter supporters:

Julia Christian

Carla Christian

David Christian

Cole Allen

Alia Cruz

Emily Cole

Dianne Heimer

Milo Delucchi


Kitdy Rakthay

Jill Henrikson

Cathy Delucchi

Ted Cox

Mary Anne & Gene Allen


Mario Amanzio

John Motsinger

Nicole N.

Josh Fernandez

Clay Nutting

Vanessa Schnaidt

Lindsay Schield

Kristin Bartus

My Kickstarter project No. 2

In summer 2012, I spent a week in Quito, Ecuador to research a story called “Quito Grown” for Earth Island Journal about the city’s urban farming initiative and how these farms address rising food prices and a jeopardized food supply. This experience made me even more committed to reporting on issues related to farming and grassroots efforts to put the power of food production back in the hands of people.Quito Grown11

In 2000, Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency to restore political and economic stability. But the process unintentionally led to rising food prices and hunger among Ecuadorians, particularly indigenous populations, refugees and children.

Quito’s urban farming initiative allows families and students to grow produce for themselves, and connects growers to local farmer’s markets at which to sell their healthy fruits and vegetables. Also, because Ecuador ranks as one of the world’s highest users of pesticides, there is a growing demand for organic produce.

Thanks to my Kickstarter supporters:

Julia Christian

Cathy Delucchi

Yen Le

Nathan Papini

Tom McMahon

Danny Cross

Mike Tener



Carla Christian

Dave Constantin


Mario Amanzio

Milo Delucchi


Lorenzo Orselli


Jon Kiefer

Mary Anne Allen

Stephan M.

Kitdy Rakthay

Oona Mallet

Ron B.

Cole Allen

David Christian

Christopher Lebedzinski

Jen Rotter

Time For A Change

So far, this blog has chronicled my “Wailing Peacocks” project, which involved a Kickstarter campaign, traveling to Hawaii and writing about the revival of ancient Polynesian voyaging and its role in navigating climate change. Now, this blog will tell of my second Kickstarter venture, which involves a trip to Quito, Ecuador to write about an urban farming project. Click here to learn about “Quito Grown.” I hope you’ll follow along on my journey! But, first, here are some of my favorite photos from the Hawaii project.

Navigator Bruce Blankenfeld, left, and Kapu Na Keiki member Jason Patterson rebuild Hokule’a.

Kapu Na Keiki member Jason Patterson works on repairing the legendary canoe, Hokule’a.

Kapu Na Keiki members prepare for a short sail.

Kaina Holomalia reflects on the importance of voyaging in his life.

Article Published In Yes! Magazine

It’s official! Nearly a year after launching my Kickstarter campaign, my project is complete. My article “Rising Sea Levels: The View from a Canoe” appears in the spring 2012 issue of Yes! magazine, which hit newsstands in late February. This national publication aims “to support people’s active engagement in creating a more just, sustainable and compassionate society.” Well, that sounds good to me!

Navigator Bruce Blankenfeld, left, and Jason Patterson of Kapu Na Keiki work on refurbishing Hokule’a in August 2011.

I want to thank all of my Kickstarter contributors for making this article possible by funding my travel and lodging expenses for my trip to Honolulu, HI in August 2011 so I could conduct interviews, gather background information and snap photos (with the help of photographer Cole Allen) for the article. Mahalo!

The Lost One

On a warm evening in 1976 Hokule’a set sail for its second voyage. Six hours later, Eddie Aikau was lost to sea.

Even before joining Hokule’a’s crew, Aikau was a legend on the island of Oahu.

Eddie Aikau, from the Internet

Born in Maui, he started surfing the waves of Kahului before its present-day harbor existed. He dropped out of high school and took a job at the Dole pineapple cannery so he’d have more time to surf. One day he rode 40-foot waves at Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore, making him a bona-fide big-wave surfer with a contagious smile whom the professional surfing community instantly embraced.

A few years later, a Hawaiian Renaissance swept the islands and Aikau got caught up in the wave. The movement had been prompted by a growing ideological consciousness among Native Hawaiians, and a push for self-determination and sovereignty. The formation of the Polynesian Voyaging Society acted as a major catalyst by providing a venue through which participants could learn about the history and accomplishments of their people.

A couple years later, in 1978, the Hawaii State Constitutional Convention presaged the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which led to a comprehensive Hawaiian culture curriculum introduced into public elementary schools, requiring the teaching of art, lifestyle, geography, hula and vocabulary. Language immersion schools were created and Hawaiians re-found their voice.

Aikau wanted to take part in the movement. He already had a good image in the community, mainly because he was a genuinely good guy, so when he tried out for Hokule’a’s crew, he made it, no problem. On March 16, 1978 at Magic Island, he strapped a surfboard to the canoe and Hokule’a launched into a strong northeast tradewind. Backup vessels had accompanied Hokule’a during the maiden voyage to Tahiti, but this time it sailed alone.

Eddie Aikau surfing, also courtesy of the Internet

The canoe took off that day but it shouldn’t have. An overloaded Hokule’a traveled down the rough Molokai Channel as 18-feet waves crashed down, and after developing a leak, the canoe capsized between Oahu and Lanai. Crew members hung on for dear life. Aikau estimated that Lanai was only 12 miles away and he insisted on unstrapping his surfboard and paddling for help. He strung some oranges around his neck, grabbed a portable strobe light, tied a life jacket around his waist, and set off.

By midnight, the U.S. Coast Guard had rescued his friends after a pilot saw flares and requested aid. Quickly, others embarked on what would become the largest air-sea rescue effort in Hawaiian history, but Aikau was never found.

“Eddie is a good example of real aloha,” Flip Cuddy told me several years ago. At that time, Cuddy was director of the Eddie Aikau Foundation. “The community needs heroes, especially the kids. You look at the problems with crystal meth and you look at how commercialism has run over the islands … Eddie is a vehicle to help Hawaiians with their dignity.”

Since 1978, not one member of Hokule’a’s crew has been lost to sea. The voyaging ohana learned the hard way of an unforgiving ocean and its impatience for an unprepared crew. PVS had been forced into an unyielding confrontation with itself and chose to try again.

“We recognized that we were not committed to voyaging in a deep enough way,” Nainoa Thompson told me. “We can’t just go sailing.”

Immediately after Aikau’s death, Thompson traveled to Micronesia to ask master navigator Mao Piailug to return to teach traditional wayfaring. Piailug returned but not without hesitation. At the age of one, he had been chosen by his grandfather to become a sailor and he was sailing by age five. He told the members of PVS — who at the time were in their 20s — that they were too old and if they wanted someone to learn they should send their sons. Nonetheless, he agreed.

“We didn’t need Mau to help us find Tahiti, as much as we needed him to help us find ourselves,” Thompson said. “Hokule’a is about knowing who we are and who we come from.”

In 1980, Hokule’a journeyed again to Tahiti but this time Thompson navigated the traditional migratory course. And, today, 34 years after Aikau’s disappearance, his legacy lives on — through educational programs in schools, an annual Quicksilver surfing contest held in his honor and with the familiar bumper sticker motto, “Eddie Would Go.”

Now, My Final Reflections

Now that the shock of returning to normal life after two weeks in Hawaii has subsided, the time has come for a list of final observations made during my trip:

Diamond Head

  1. Good luck enjoying dinner as a vegetarian in Waikiki. My nightly menu consisted of either a $10 Gardenburger or a $14 cobb salad. I am like the world’s least-annoying vegetarian but I still want options, people!
  2. Birds are highly evolved in Waikiki. White pigeons saunter through the front door of a restaurant, eat crumbs off the floor, then exit the way they came in and enter the dining establishment next door for another meal. This is all done in a calm and orderly manner.
  3. Oahu, particularly Waikiki, is a true tossed salad of international diversity. As such, I developed stereotypes for travelers based on perceived nationality — Japanese, American, western European, Chinese, Russians. But to share any of those stereotypes would get me in trouble.
  4. There must be so much trash in the ocean. I could not believe how much litter I saw floating around — and that I tried to retrieve. Are people actually that irresponsible and uncaring? Or are they just oblivious? Either way, it makes me mad.
  5. If I lived in my hotel for a few months, I would be so popular and have so many friends. In two weeks, I became a homegirl with the hotel bartender, hotel bellhop and the Vietnam vet in the wheelchair on the street corner.
  6. I, with the help of a traveling buddy, am capable of spending $300 during two weeks at the ABC stores. For that accomplishment, I received two free hula girl mugs and a pictorial calendar of Hawaii, thank you very much.
  7. I don’t like the idea of someone being lonely. On several occasions during the first week of my trip, as my sister and I lounged on the beach, a middle aged man sat down near us. He carried a large, stuffed black backpack and black jacket, which he stacked so the items were visible from the ocean. He looked Native American, and wore a pair of faded maroon pants into the water as he floated over the waves. “I hope he has friends,” I told my sister, as we watched him one  afternoon. “It makes me sad to think of people being lonely.” She paused, eyeing the man and contemplating my concern. “He might have a really killer nightlife,” she said.
  8. I observed that my sister is a total weirdo.
  9. Despite the availability of high-priced rental cars and hotel shuttles to various tourist destinations, I found that the public bus system was, in fact, the most convenient and reliable mode of transportation.
  10. The culture of Hawaii is so rich. It’s crazy (in a great way). I just cannot imagine white mainlanders possessing such a deep respect of, commitment to and knowledge of traditions and historical people and places and culturally significant entities. This, of course, does not apply to Americans and professional sports.
  11. As Cole and I hung out at dry dock for Hokule’a with members of kapu na keiki, a group of young voyagers, Cole made an observation. He remarked on how impressive it is that these young people choose to spend their time performing this manual labor — sanding fiberglass, drilling holes and so on. They don’t get paid. They don’t get school credit. It won’t look flashy on their college-entrance essays (most have already graduated college). They do it, as they say, out of pure “aloha.” It was a beautiful thing to see.
(Just because this post is called “final reflections,” that doesn’t mean this blog is done yet! More to come!)

Voyager Interviews Continued

In a few days, I’ll be meeting up with members of Kapu Na Keiki, as well as other Polynesian Voyaging Society volunteers, as the group refurbishes Hokule’a. The canoe has been dry docked the past 11 months. In the meantime, here are a few more photos (courtesy of famed photographer, Julia C.) from my first interview with the young voyagers.

From left, Haunani, Moani and Kai



Members of Kapu Na Keiki

So, We Finally Meet

Yesterday, I had the privilege of hanging with six members of Kapu Na Keiki — young voyagers with the Polynesian Voyaging Society. We met at the Marine Education Training Center, operated by Honolulu Community College and where Hokule’a and two other canoes are docked.

Members of Kapu Na Keiki

We took a cab to the center after my sister wisely suggested we do so, rather than my plan of a two-hour bus ride (with a 40-minute walk in there somewhere).

“Noooo, I’m not getting on the stinking bus,” Julia whined.

Not after our debacle of a bus ride the previous day when we spent five hours on the bus (make that five different buses) roundtrip for three hours of kayaking in Kailua.

“You in the military?” asked our hotel bellhop, as we requested a taxi service to the center.

“No, I’m going to do an interview there,” I said. “You heard of the Polynesian Voyaging Society?”

Blank stare.

“Nainoa Thompson?”

“Oh yeah,” he said, shaking his head in agreement, smiling. “Oh yeah, Hokule’a.”

Turns out he’d been on the famous Hawaiian canoe, much to my envy, during a celebration a few years back after a successful sail. Later that day, at the center, I would finally come face to face with Hokule’a. I’d been waiting five years for this day.

Me In Waikiki

Here I am, in Waikiki, staying in a modest hotel across from Kapiolani Park, a block from the beach. Waikiki is, of course, overrun with tourists from all over the world who’ve come to explore the most isolated archipelago on Earth.

Surfboards, just cause

They’re — we’re — always out walking around. Seriously, always. Heavy pedestrian traffic had started, or never ceased, by the time we went for a run at 8:30 a.m. It was happening at 5 a.m. when we awoke, still on West Coast time. Returning from dinner, I remarked that Waikiki’s sidewalks appeared more crowded than New York City’s. My sister (my week No. 1 traveling companion) said, no, New York is busier. I told her it’s exactly the same.

We’ve been here two days and already had enough sun exposure, and burns, to personally insult a dermatologist. Today, we swam with fishes, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed when I managed to stop freaking out about the possibility of stepping on corral and killing a precious living creature long enough to watch as tang and butterfly fish passed by, or stopped for a nibble.

It’s fitting I’m based in Waikiki for this little 15-day adventure — the tourist trap where culture comes to die. Or live? I’m not quite sure. There are, after all, plenty of free hula performances, ukulele playing and “mahalo” floating around. We must surely take something away from this cultural exposure, right? Oh, yes, traditionally speaking, Native Hawaiians pass down stories through hula song and dance. Ah, “mahalo” means thank you in their native language.

But there’s also the Gucci, Cheesecake Factory, Victoria Secret, Forever 21, street performers, club-goers, teenager runaways, honeymooners, tweakers, Japanese women in high heels. As a 20-year resident described Waikiki this afternoon: “It’s like driving through a mall.” Just with more interesting, and diverse, characters.

I get the impression Waikiki isn’t exactly a place locals appreciate. But many of them work here, behind the counters of ABC shops, as waitresses in perpetually busy restaurants, as instructors giving surf lessons on the beach.

In a few days, I finally get to meet with some of my interviewees for the article. I expect about seven of them. But that’s all I’ll say for now. I don’t want to show my whole hand! (or whatever that saying is. I’m bad idioms.)