Archie Kalepa: Master Waterman and Messenger

In the past few years, the use of the word “waterman” has become a popular way to describe someone with a certain mastery of the ocean.  Using a variety of tools, they interact with the water in a way that leaves most people in awe. They have an uncanny ability to read the signs of the sea and use it to their benefit—whether to harvest fish, navigate between islands, or to catch a perfect wave. 

Yet some people out there defy the basic definition of waterman. Archie Kalepa is one of those people. One of very few inducted into the Hawaiian waterman hall of fame, Kalepa has spent decades of sharing his knowledge and love for the ocean.  As the head lifeguard for Maui County, he is also responsible for guiding an entire generation of waterman to protect the ocean and those who interact with it. 

Of all the recognition and honor Kalepa has received throughout his life, his recent trip aboard Hokulea was likely one of the most profound.  On his 56-day voyage he traveled throughout the south pacific as the crew navigated without any modern instruments—using only the methods that the ancient Polynesians used for thousands of years.  Their mission was to spread the message of “Malama Honua,” which means “To care and respect the Earth.” Archie’s leg aboard Hokulea was part of a larger, 4-year mission to navigate around the world, spreading goodwill to everyone they met.

We had a chance to catch up with Archie soon after his trip finished.  

Photo: OluKai
Photo: OluKai

The Clymb: Welcome back, Archie. How was your trip?
Archie Kapela: It’s hard to explain. It was such a powerful journey and a powerful message. The only thing I can think or talk about is the day-to-day stuff that happened. We would sail from island to island, and get caught up in storms out at sea, and wait for the next storm to come. But there were many moments where we would reflect, and spiritual moments that you could feel, but is hard to explain.

The Clymb: How did you share the message of Malama Honua? And what messages did you take from the communities you visited?
AK: What we learned from them is just a reassurance that we are heading down the right path. And the message that they reconfirmed that we shared with them is to take this message around the world. And that is we gotta start taking care of this planet. We need to start taking care of our people. If we don’t start taking care of our planet there’s gonna be a lot of things that’s gonna happen.

The Clymb: How about sharing the message once Hokulea leaves polynesia and the cultural differences become larger?
AK: We reminded ourselves at how jaded we can be while sailing in Polynesia because we are so welcomed. It’s so easy to spread that message because people already understand it. But it’s when we get out of Polynesia and into other areas around the world that it’s going to be a hard job. The canoes have a great way of touching people’s hearts, making people see and realize. I think every crewmember has prepared themselves in their own way. And you’ve just gotta keep it simple. Just touch one person at a time, and soon it becomes a big difference. And I think we are heading down that path. You can’t foresee the future, but as long as we keep moving forward with this project, and as long as everybody – when we leave a park, when we leave a place, that people understand or have a better understanding of where they live, and how much better it can be, not by building but by caring, we’re on the right track.

The Clymb: How would you summarize the message that you, personally shared with people along the voyage?
AK: Number one is treat each other with respect. Then reach out and help one another, and do your own little part. Whether it’s putting something in a rubbish can, turning off a light switch, saving water, to finding ways to lessen impact on our environment, then you are doing something. If each and every one of us can do that, it will allow this planetary system to live a little longer. Today’s society is so fast paced, and it’s so easy to get a hold of whatever you want, that we really take the green and beautiful tree for granted. 

Hokulea and Hikianalia will continue to sail for the next four years as it visits communities around the world.  You can view the voyage’s progress at hokulea.com.