Nainoa Thompson is the President of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and a Pwo (Master) Navigator. Inspired by his kūpuna (elders) and teachers, he has dedicated his life to exploring the deep meaning of voyaging. Among many important mentors, Yoshio Kawano took him at an early age to tide pools to explore the mysteries of the inshore ocean; Herb Kāne introduced him to the stars his ancestors used to navigate great ocean distances; and Pwo navigator Mau Piailug taught him to see the natural signs he would use to guide Hōkūleʻa, a replica of an ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe, throughout Polynesia. Nainoa’s father taught him the universal values of voyaging – of having a vision of islands rising from the sea, of self-discipline, preparation, courage, risk-taking and the spirit of aloha that would bind a crew on arduous journeys.
On long voyages, under a dome of stars and surrounded by the vast empty ocean, Nainoa came to appreciate the Hawaiian concept of “mālama” – care taking. “Our ancestors learned that if they took care of their canoe and each other,” he has often told his crew, “and if they marshaled their resources of food and water, they would arrive safely at their destination.” Astronaut Lacy Veach, who observed the Hawaiian Islands from space, helped Nainoa understand “mālama” from a planetary perspective. “The best place to think about the fate of our planet is right here in our islands,” Veach told Nainoa. “If we can create a model for well-being here in Hawaiʻi we can make a contribution to the entire world.” From all these teachings comes the next great voyage of exploration – Hōkūleʻa’s journey around the world to “mālama honua” – care for the planet.
Nainoa is the recipient of numerous community awards, including the Unsung Hero of Compassion, awarded to him by His Holiness XIV Dalai Lama on behalf of the organization Wisdom in Action, the Native Hawaiian Education Association’s Manomano Ka ‘Ike (Depth and Breadth of Knowledge) Educator of the Year Award, the NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, the BLUE Ocean Film Festival Legacy Award, the Peter Benchley Ocean Award for Excellence in Marine Exploration, the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal, and the Explorers Club Medal.