The Future Is In The Past

Austin Kino looking out at Maunalua Bay LAWRENCE TABUDLO PHOTO

Austin Kino looking out at Maunalua Bay LAWRENCE TABUDLO PHOTO

In 2014, Austin Kino was one of the apprentice navigators on board the Hokulea for the first leg of the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage, responsible for getting the canoe the 2,700 miles from Hawaii to Tahiti, using only the traditional Polynesian voyaging skills that he’d been studying.

That trip is the subject of Kino’s photography exhibit Ke Ala i Kahiki “The Pathway to Tahiti,” on display now through Sept. 3 at film photography shop treehouse.

“I took a waterproof film camera with me … and I selected some of my favorite shots from that trip and put together an exhibition that documents the crew and the voyage as well as our interactions and some of the sights we saw when we got to Tahiti,” explains Kino, who has been with Hokulea apprentice program Kapu Na Keiki since graduating from Kamehameha in 2006.

Since that trip, Kino has been on two more voyages with Hokulea — on legs of the Worldwide Voyage that took him through New Zealand and the Virgin Islands.

According to Polynesian Voyaging Society, the current voyage is a way to promote the idea of a sustainable future throughout the world.

And that’s a goal that Kino also extends into his life on land. In 2015, he started his own nonprofit, Huli, with friend Jesse Yonover. The group seeks to educate youths on environmental and cultural issues with practical, hands-on programs, with a particular focus on where they both live in the Hawaii Kai area.

One of Kino's photos featured in his exhibit that's up now at treehouse AUSTIN KINO PHOTO

One of Kino’s photos featured in his exhibit that’s up now at treehouse

You can also catch Kino as the guest speaker at The Modern Honolulu’s next Study Hall — a lecture series that hosts various leaders from the community to share their knowledge — at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 6

In the meantime, Metro had a chance to chat with Kino about his work on Hokulea, his efforts to share his knowledge with the younger generation and what is next.

What is day-to-day life like for an apprentice navigator on the Hokulea?

If you are navigating, you are constantly being aware of what is going on around you. Our two most important times for a navigator are sunrise and sunset — because when the sun is on the horizon, that is one really sure fixed point we have to recalibrate … Throughout the day, that is when you start to look at where the waves are coming from and the wind. The workflow is constant observation.

What are some of the things that you have learned as an apprentice?

Navigators always have to think about three things. They have to think about bearings — what direction they are headed. In order to figure that out, we learn everything from cycles of how the sun rises in different places throughout the year, the movements of the moon and the declination of the stars.

The first group of students with Huli in 2015 PHOTO COURTESY AUSTIN KINO

The first group of students with Huli in 2015

The second thing we need to figure out is how fast we are traveling … We have learned if you look at the bubbles in ocean and count the time that it takes for them to pass from the hull all the way down until it passes at the stern, then you can start to build a ratio to figure out how fast you are going.

And then (the third thing is) how far you have traveled since you last knew for sure where you were. If you are leaving Hawaii on the way to Tahiti, day one you keep your speed, you’re seeing your bearings … and then at the end of day one, say you sailed 5 knots, 24 hours. Then we know we are 120 miles closer to Tahiti.

We are always learning something that helps us with those three things.

Have you ever gotten lost out there?

The trickiest area is what is called the Doldrums, and that can appear anywhere from 5 degrees north latitude and 5 degrees south on the equator. There is a lot of overcast, and the wind — instead of being on the surface like our tradewinds — just goes vertical, so you can’t use it (to sail). So you will have conditions of no wind and cloud cover, which are like the two worst things if you are trying to navigate. We got really fortunate … (and) sailed right through.

But I have been sailing on a different vessel, on Hikianalia (Hokulea’s sister canoe), and we got stuck for six days. We don’t have motors, so you just kind of sit there and you’re not moving and you’re getting spun in circles.

Kino (back left) with some other apprentice navigators (back, from left) Jason Patterson, Jenna Ishii, (front) Haunani Kane, Kala Babayan and Lehua Kamalu PHOTO COURTESY POLYNESIAN VOYAGING SOCIETY

Kino (back left) with some other apprentice navigators (back, from left) Jason Patterson, Jenna Ishii, (front) Haunani Kane, Kala Babayan and Lehua Kamalu PHOTO COURTESY POLYNESIAN VOYAGING SOCIETY

Why did you want to create Huli?

The whole mission of the (Hokulea) voyage talks about “taking care of island earth.” But if the schools out here didn’t have a physical place to go and take their kids outside, it was kind of just preaching to no one.

We are based at Paiko (Lagoon), and we just wanted to create opportunities for students and teachers to have an outdoor classroom … We are trying to reestablish that system where kids from an early age can feel like they can connect and have a voice in our community.

Why do you think that is important for kids?

They can feel like they have a presence, and therefore they can have a voice one day. I think once you spend time in a place from an early age, it gives you a little bit more of a responsibility, kuleana. We can help show them that it is going to help the next few generations be more aware and maybe try to reverse some of the problems we are seeing now.

What is your goal in your work with Hokulea?

One of the goals for the worldwide voyage is to have a little bit of succession of leadership to make sure that there is a group to sail Hokulea for the next 40 years. And I think for myself, I’d like to find a way to use this knowledge that we have re-claimed over the last 40 years of Polynesian seafaring to try and solve some of our issues that we have now — whether it’s transporting goods interisland or taking people out in an eco-tourism fashion — to try to really bring it new life again.

For more information on Hokulea, visit


Growing up in the Hawaii Kai/Aina Haina area, Austin Kino and Jesse Yonover knew each other for years — they both had spent a lot of time in the water at Maunalua Bay as kids, and they both worked with various conservation organizations as adults.

Austin Kino (left) and Jesse Yonover  LAWRENCE TABUDLO PHOTO

Austin Kino (left) and Jesse Yonover LAWRENCE TABUDLO PHOTO

One day they ran into each other at Sandy’s, and the conversation turned to something they both had been thinking about: how there wasn’t really a space in the community for kids to learn about issues facing the natural environment in their own backyard.

So they decided to start their own, launching Huli as a way to introduce kids within the community to environmental issues — and equip them with ways that they can help.

“What I wanted to see was that formal education interaction with the kids and bringing them out into Maunalua Bay — into a place that is in their own backyard — so that they can develop the love and learn about the place, and then in turn want to protect it and help make it a better place,” Yonover explains.

Currently, students go through three rotations with Huli: catching and analyzing plankton, removing invasive plants and re-planting native ones, and testing water quality.

“We are always trying to keep it fun and creative … just to let the students understand some of the dangers that are facing (the ocean) right now and how we can help be better stewards,” Kino says.

“We all depend on nature — no matter who you are or where you are from — and we need to respect that dependency,” Yonover says. “And I think it is important when you teach these young kids about these natural resources that are in their own community so that they can develop a healthy relationship with nature — and also so that they can help protect these places.”

For more information, visit