Hokulea: Inspiring Voyages, People

We often hear about kupuna (elders) teaching the younger generation about kuleana (responsibility). It is something author, screenwriter and veteran sailor Sam Low learned early in life from his dad.

Low’s father grew up on Hawaii Island in the quiet town of Kohala. The elder Low was sent to school in New England and eventually married and settled there, but his roots remained deep in the Islands.

“I knew my father was different from other dads for many reasons, but one was that he was the only dad I knew who played the guitar and sang songs in Hawaiian,” recalls Low. “He was a waterman. He loved to swim and fish, and he was on a boat whenever he could be. He taught me to love the sea.”

Low’s father died the night Low left home in Southington, Conn., to travel to Hawaii for the first time. That was in 1964. It was a moment that helped shape Low’s life and instilled a purpose and kuleana to it as well. His responsibility was to communicate and contribute to a greater mission.

“Voyaging aboard Hokulea and writing Hawaiki Rising was partly a way of returning to Hawaii for him,” says Low.

Low sailed on three Hokulea voyages from 1999 to 2007 and was on the escort boat for a fourth. His job as a crewmember was to document each sail.

“I would take voluminous notes and many photographs each day aboard the canoe in fulfillment of that mission,” says Low. “I also posted a short story once a day about the voyage on the Polynesian Voyaging Society website. At the end of 10 years of voyaging, I had this great store of stories and experiences that I felt needed to be communicated to as wide a public as possible.”

It was the origin of what some are calling one of the greatest gifts to the world of navigation and Polynesian voyaging, Hawaiki Rising.

“There is nothing but good will behind this book, and that is its primary lesson,” says Low. “I urge anyone interested in such topics to read it to better understand Hawaii, Hawaiians, indigenous peoples and the world.”

Low started working on the book many years ago, and it went through several revisions and about a dozen drafts. His goal was to complete it before the start of Hokulea’s worldwide voyage in 2014. The book was published in May 2013 and sold out its first printing in just five months. It’s now in its second printing.

“The lessons learned while voyaging aboard Hokulea are profound; they become a philosophy of life,” says Low. “I took inspiration from the teachings of our kupuna, especially from Myron ‘Pinky’ Thompson, who became a mentor to all of us.”

Low also was inspired to write the book by master navigator Mau Piailug, with whom he spent time in 1982 on Satawal while filming his award-winning movie, The Navigators — Pathfinders of the Pacific. He says Piailug once told him he agreed to make the film because he wanted people to understand how important navigation is and the need to preserve it.

“I hope that I can bring his message about the importance of this traditional wayfinding art to a new audience through the book,” says Low. “When Nainoa (Thompson) speaks in the book of ‘opening doors of perception,’ these are universal messages that I hoped readers would get.”

And as Hokulea prepares for its worldwide voyage, Low has an even greater sense of accomplishment for the book that many say will be used as a reference for years to come.

“More a sense that I was accomplishing my kuleana because my pride is in the canoe, her mission and in the friends I have made voyaging aboard her,” says Low, “I am proud of them. That is the reason for writing the book.”

For more information about Hokulea’s worldwide voyage, visit hokulea.org, and for more information about Hawaiki Rising, visit samlow.com/HawaiikiRising.htm.