Maiden Voyage

The inaugural ‘Voyaging with Leadership Kaua‘i’ program launches May 18, ushering in an era of service learning and collaboration aboard Nãmãhoe

He wa‘a he moku, he moku he wa‘a. The canoe is an island, an island is a canoe.

That’s the message Kanana Kuhaulua hopes to incite at the inaugural “Voyaging with Leadership Kaua‘i” program that launches Friday (May 18). In fact, it’s the same mentality Kuhaulua applies to her life.

“Every problem there is, you can apply wa‘a mentality,” she says.

Being part of a canoe team grants many valuable lessons like learning to work together and understanding how to play to personal strengths and weaknesses — qualities that create leaders. That’s why Kuhaulua, along with Nāmāhoe’s captains John Kruse and Dennis Chun, have linked forces with Leadership Kaua‘i to offer a new platform for up-and-coming trailblazers.

Crew member Kanana Kuhaulua explains that Nãmãhoe is an integral part of “Voyaging with Leadership Kaua‘i” and its focus on service learning and community mindedness.

Together they will host a 10-day program aimed at teaching participants ages 14-70 Polynesian voyaging skills. Part of the instruction will be held aboard Nāmāhoe, where guests can learn through hands-on exercises like rigging and maintaining the canoe, as well as conceptual elements that focus on cultural practices, problem-solving and collaboration.

Chun says he’s participating in the new program to explore and also share ideas about what the concept of leadership means within the context of Polynesian voyaging.

“Are there cultural values, traits and practices that resonate in what defines what we call ‘leadership’ today?” he muses. “Can these be ‘learned’ in today’s contemporary society and be successful? What experiences on the various voyages caused certain practices, values and traits to be highlighted that then affected desired ‘leadership’ modes? These are just some of the questions that we are hoping to answer or discover as a participant in this project.”

The recent creation of “Voyaging with Leadership Kaua‘i” adds to the nonprofit’s already-impressive lineup of workshops and courses. Its primary focus is its “Annual Adult Leadership Program” that consists of a class of about 15 to 20 people who, upon graduating, take their expertise and use it to serve the community in a collective fashion — much like how a crew works together on a canoe.

Leadership Kaua‘i executive director Char Ravelo (left) and City Councilman Mason Chock are the minds behind the nonprofit’s inaugural “Voyaging with Leadership Kaua‘i.” They partnered with the canoe’s crew members to launch the program, which kicks off May 18.

Adults meet monthly for 10 months in a “mobile classroom” program, in which they visit cultural locations around the island, listen to guest speakers and work on critical-thinking skills. One of the classrooms students visit is Nāmāhoe. In fact, it’s part of what inspired Leadership Kaua‘i executive director Char Ravelo to use the canoe as a basis for the full-fledged program “Voyaging with Leadership Kaua‘i.”

“She’s been in the hearts and minds of every sailor and paddler on the island who knows about her,” Ravelo says of the twin-hull canoe. “There’s so much energy and spirit behind this canoe.”

The construction of the 72-foot-long vessel that represents the islands of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau began in the late 1990s. It was founded by nonprofit Nā Kālai Wa‘a o Kaua‘i (The Canoe Builders of Kaua‘i) to perpetuate the seafaring arts and culture of the ancient Polynesians. The three original founders — Chun, Kruse and the late Dr. Patrick Aiu — were all Hōkūle‘a crew members and shared the desire to offer their knowledge along with an educational platform for the community, especially keiki.

Nāmāhoe took two decades to build and launched for the first time in 2016, followed by a journey to O‘ahu to join her fleet for Hōkūle‘a’s homecoming.

“We were the only canoe that had children on board,” says Kuhaulua. “Staying true to who we are and our focus: passing on the values that encompass wa‘a.”

She’s excited to assist with the upcoming workshop that will allow even more people to experience Nāmāhoe and the principles it imparts. She also wants to help participants learn that it’s their teamwork that makes everything tick.

“Everybody has a function, everybody has a purpose and everybody has a lesson to learn,” says Kuhaulua.

And that’s what forms great leaders. With each person’s set of skills and strengths, they can work together to make an even better team, or in the case of people who participate in Leadership Kaua‘i activities, a better community.

“What makes ‘ohana wa‘a so important is understanding that,” says Kuhaulua. “And knowing that if I don’t have the answer, I can ask the person next to me to get that.”

Moreover, the journey is the destination.

“It’s about reaching the destination, but that’s always bittersweet on your journey because you go through all these trials and tribulations and it’s really the journey that pulls everybody together,” says City Councilman Mason Chock, Leadership Kaua‘i’s collaborative and consulting partner.

Chock, who worked with Ravelo to come up with the inaugural “Voyaging with Leadership Kaua‘i” program, anticipates that participants will gain a “better sense of identity” that will translate into affirmative action that’s applicable to their daily lives.

“And the community that we live in,” he adds.

For more information, visit or call 246-8727.