Quote Unquote: Meet Nā‘ālehu Anthony, Hōkūle‘a’s Storyteller

Nā‘ālehu Anthony goes on long journeys to document the Hōkūle‘a.
Photo: David Croxford 

Nā‘ālehu Anthony’s path has been an interesting journey, even before he set sail in 1999 on the Hōkūle‘a, the Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe that’s now making its way around the world. At 40, he’s earned a degree in Hawaiian Studies and an MBA and worked as a TV news videographer. He now runs Palikū Documentary Films and ‘Ōiwi Television Network, the first and only Native Hawaiian-owned and -operated TV network, which handles all the communications and social media for the worldwide voyage.


GROWING UP IN KA‘A‘AWA, we really didn’t have anything to do. But, then, we had everything, too. The beach was our playground. The ability to just go there and hang out and learn about that space (the ocean) day after day after day, that really became my biggest asset. We didn’t need to see the ocean to know what it was doing. You could tell by how it sounded that it was a big surf day. Or you knew it would be really calm because of the way the clouds were.


I WAS IN THIRD GRADE at Ka‘a‘awa Elementary and Penny Martin (one of the original members of Hōkūle‘a) came to talk to us. I remember thinking to myself, “No way I could do that. It’s impossible.” These people seemed superhuman to me at the time.


ON MY FIRST SAIL FROM RAPA NUI TO TAHITI IN 1999, I almost didn’t get in the canoe. I was the youngest guy on the canoe (24) and I had never been on the canoe for that long (24 days). It was the longest Hōkūle‘a had ever sailed, about 3,000 miles. I was going to tell [navigator] Bruce [Blankenfeld] I couldn’t do it. But once we got in the canoe and we cast our lines, it immediately felt right. My body was ready, but my mind wasn’t. And the only way to get ready was to just go.


I WENT TO BUSINESS SCHOOL because I wanted to figure out why some of my peers in the community were good in business and why some were bad. And I figured it out, and it’s been my mantra by which I’ve articulated the rest of my career. It all comes down to this: I’ve always believed that, in order for a singular person to do well, the community has to do well. That person’s success depends on the health of the community. But in capitalism, it’s the opposite. It’s about how to maximize profit using the resources available. But that fails to address all the other things we value—the community, the ‘āina—and that’s where the hiccup was.


YES, THERE’S WI-FI ON THE HŌKŪLE‘A. I can text the canoe right now. But there’s a password to access it and only the communications people know it. Partly because the bandwidth service is thousands of dollars a month. But also because the influx of technology aboard the canoe has the potential to change a lot of things, and some of those things you don’t want to tinker with. Like, the crew should be focused on what they need to do and not on what’s on Facebook. 


EVERYONE BRINGS THE STUFF YOU CAN’T GO WITHOUT.  Arare, [crack] seed, whatever snacks you want. One time, we ran out of coffee. That was tough. You gotta buy in bulk, too, because, on the canoe, with 12 crew members, just one pass around and it’s gone.


THIS ONE CREW MEMBER, his daughter baked fresh cookies. Food is such a morale booster. On the rainiest of rainiest days, we were so miserable. He busted out those three dozen cookies and it turned into the best day ever.


Did you know? By the end of the worldwide Mālama Honua voyage in 2017, the Hōkūle‘a will have sailed across 47,000 nautical miles over four years, visiting 26 countries.