In 1976, the unproven Hōkūleʻa had many doubters. The double-hulled voyaging canoe contained no motor and the navigators would attempt to sail from Hawaii to Tahiti using only non-modern techniques believed to be used by their ancestors. When Hōkūleʻa reached Tahiti and returned safely to Hawaii, the doubters were silenced, and a renaissance for the Hawaiian and Polynesian culture was born--Austin Kino is a product of that renaissance.
Kino is part of the next generation of voyagers, being trained to takeover the responsibility from the founding members, and uphold the legacy of the Hōkūleʻa. Kino and crew, were handpicked by Nainoa Thompson to sail on the first leg of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage, from Hilo to Tahiti. Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia, the sister canoe of Hōkūleʻa, are currently en route to Tahiti, but I caught up with him before he set sail to talk about his experiences with Hawaii’s canoes thus far.
Jake Ho: What has been your best experience with Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia?
Austin Kino: Probably just meeting all these older guys. Like the OG guys... I mean I knew Bruce [Blankenfield] and Nainoa [Thompson], because they train with us, but the rest of the guys are outer island and you just see them and they’re intense... They’ve been completely supportive and they’re the guys that get the least amount of press, and when they started, there was no Google, there was not all these people like, “Yeah! You can do it!” Majority of the people were expecting it to fail and almost wanted it to fail because it was something that was Hawaiian, and they still did it anyway and made it their life’s work, and now they give it to us. Have you had any bad experiences with Hōkūleʻa or learning experiences?
I think only a couple times we’ve had bad things happen where people weren’t in it for the right reason. They were trying to get on legs and try to be really competitive, and thats not what it is. I think the reason why [my crew] all stayed here for so long is because we’ve all became pretty close friends. If it wasn’t this, we’d all be doing something else together. It really has to be like that. There is a lot of emotion involved. There is a lot of competition involved.There are only so many slots and not everyone can go and the people that I’ve learned the most from, to be honest, is a whole group of guys and girls that are in their late 20’s early 30’s, that was us or were the next generation, but for whatever reason they’ve become leaders in their own right and butt heads with the older leadership. These are the people that when we didn’t know anything they took us under their wing and showed us, and now when they call crew those guys didn’t get called, for whatever reason. How I learned the most about the canoe is from seeing how they dealt with that. Instead of being like, “I showed these guys, they were nothing,” and being pissed, they love the canoe so much that they’ll be like “you know what, I’m stoked you get to go and I know I’ll have my time,” and I don’t think I could do that. If I gave the last 10 years of my life, and to hire some kid who just been coming down--that’s what got me to understand what it really looks like to love the canoe, because it is not about yourself. Its about what we’re sailing.
They weren’t over it but I was like, “Are you guys freaking out? We just learned navigation from...” and they were like, “Calm down, it’s just Uncle Nainoa”...
What led you to this point?
I first heard about it in high school and I saw it in a Hana Hou ad. I just saw people paddling with Nainoa and Bruce on one man [canoes] and learning about the stars and I wanted to do it so bad. One, because I grew up knowing those guys through my mom, but also we’ve all heard that story since we were how old, but I never pushed myself in any other aspect of being a water person, but I thought this would be my thing. So I went, stayed with it and I still trip out because people, at first you get to meet them and study at his house. A lot of the other kids already knew him. They weren’t over it but I was like, “Are you guys freaking out? We just learned navigation from...” and they were like, “Calm down, it’s just Uncle Nainoa,” and I was always freaking out, I couldn’t believe it.
These guys would look me dead in the eye and ask me, “I’ve invested all this time in you, are you going to keep the canoe sailing?”
What is the mission for Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage?
The mission for Mālama Honua is to train the next generation of captains and navigators. Basically, to find the new pool of leadership that will keep the canoe sailing. When we took her out of dry dock, she had sailed for 50 years, and the goal with how much time we’ve put into this, is to keep it sailing for another 50 years. I think these guys realize, and they’ll never say it publicly and they admit it, that this canoe will outlive them and it’s part of their responsibility and legacy, and they can’t really relax and move on until they feel like it’s going to keep sailing, and that used to overwhelm me.
These guys would look me dead in the eye and ask me, “I’ve invested all this time in you, are you going to keep the canoe sailing?” For me when we were drinking awa and we were having these binding contracts, I don’t think I even realized what we were doing. You’re just saying yeah I’m here in the moment, but when they say it like this is why we’re sailing. It’s really a promise.How long is your sail plan?
The Tahiti sail plan is for 22 days. The whole thing is a little over three years, 32 legs, 48 different countries.
What are you most excited about the voyage?
I’m mostly excited about testing myself. It’s really easy to hide in as a crew member, but to actually test my navigation, there is no hiding... You can do all the interviews in the world, smile, and get leis, to be a crew member and live up to what that means on the surface--but I’m excited and nervous and anxious at the same time to be tested to see what we actually learned; if we’ll be able to do it.What does Hōkūleʻa mean to you?
It means a change for big, big shifts. Before they first set sail to after they found Tahiti, there was a big shift in Hawaii alone. For cultural identity and cultural pride, and it opened up cultural renaissance, to education, to language, to connecting cultures. The effects are still filling in from what that first sail did. So what that canoe is to me is any hopes and dreams that you have, in the Pacific or for yourself can be carried on it.
Google has this term, moonshot. When Hawaiians first set sail and tried to find an island this big, that was a moonshot. They left for something they had no idea about. I still don’t think we know everything that they did. We just started.
INTERVIEW/PHOTO Jake Ho
EDITOR Aoloa Patao