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 entirely new gen­er­a­tion of water­men 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