The water turns from turquoise to indigo as Nakoa Prejean maneuvers his canoe, Pomaika‘i o Kapaekukui, beyond the shallows into K ane‘ohe Bay. The canoe is his workplace, the floating classroom for his business, Hawaiian Ocean Adventures, which takes visitors on educational sailingexcursions. But it’s not all work: Prejean and his longtime partner, Terry Galpin, also like to take the canoe out for joy rides. Today, as the canoe’s cardinal-red sail embraces the wind, the boat awakens and finds its glide. Prejean maintains a firm grip on the steering blade, and Galpin lounges on the ‘iako (outrigger boom). They smile broadly, happy to settle into the rhythm of the sea.
Prejean points north toward Kualoa beach, the birthplace of Hokule‘a. Directly behind them is densely forested Hakipu‘u Valley, recognized as the landing point for Pa‘oa, the Marquesan navigator who reportedly brought the first breadfruit tree to Hawai‘i. On the shoreline that fronts the valley sits their house.
Galpin is the president and Prejean the cultural advisor of the nonprofit Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association, which was founded in 1987 after the first Na Holo Kai. HSCA’s mission is to “revive, educate and practice the ancient Hawaiian skills and values as they relate to the Hawaiian sailing canoe and its culture.” The organization has now grown far beyond Na Holo Kai: Each summer, from May through September, it hosts a series of rough-water races that start on Hawai‘i Island and travel to Maui, Moloka‘i, O‘ahu and Kaua‘i. In between events HSCA members participate in community service projects.
“We take time out on each island to share,” says Galpin. “We don’t just race in and race out.” The day before the race at K a‘anapali, for example, HSCA sailors took more than four hundred visitors out on complimentary sailing canoe rides.
Among HSCA’s founders were Prejean’s uncles Mike and Jimmy Kincaid, who raced in the first Na Holo Kai. They began taking their nephew sailing when he was a kid and living on the Big Island. He quickly discovered he shared their intense passion for the canoe. His formal boat-building education came from Kirkwood Clarke, founder of Hawaiian Catamaran and master of the trade. Clarke was devoutly “old school,” Prejean says; he fabricated every piece from scratch, down to the canoe trailers. As an apprentice, Prejean learned to transform fiberglass, wood and metal into magnificent, sturdy, oceangoing vessels that could reach speeds of twenty-five knots—as fast as a strong wind blows.
“There will come a time when you’re going to have to teach it, because there are not a lot of teachers,” Clarke told him. Today, Prejean builds canoes and uses them to teach students math and science through practical application. “Sailing is a hook, but to me it is an expression of our culture,” he says. “It’s a holistic practice. Traditional values—kuleana [responsibility], laulima [cooperation], aloha—and sustainability mauka to makai [from the mountain to the sea]. The canoe connects it all.
“For us it’s about the kids,” he continues, “so that future generations can understand this is how we got here, this is how our kupuna [elders] fed themselves, this is how the way of life was sustainable—so in a hundred years, somebody’s not going to be looking at pictures to figure it out.”