This is the story of an amazing journey, a trans-archipelago odyssey covering 1,650 miles – the length of the Hawaiian Island chain from the Big Island to Kure Atoll. The voyage took place in eight parts over six years and included canoe paddlers from throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
Kendall Struxness completed the length of this arduous journey, traversing sections of the main islands in one-person and sailing outrigger canoes. This included paddling a one-person canoe across the challenging Ka‘ie‘iewaho Channel between Kaua‘i and O‘ahu.
The Culminating Journey – Reaching Kānemiloha‘i
The final leg of the epic canoe journey was completed by Kendall and 15 other paddlers in July of 2008. This last leg covered 480 miles in 73 hours as the paddlers battled 10-foot seas and 20-knot winds along with periods of extreme heat.
Kokomo akula ka wa‘a i ka nalu.
The canoe is plunging through the waves.
The paddling began at Laysan Island known by the Hawaiian name Kaūo. From there Kendall and his fellow paddlers each stroked for 26 hours to reach their destination.
Despite fierce winds, extreme heat and high seas the crew remained “one big hoe wa‘a ‘ohana (paddling family),” said paddler Kimokea Kapahulehua after the journey. “We cling to one another, we have compassion with one another.”
Finally they reached Kure, the world’s northernmost atoll. Kure is known to Hawaiians as Kānemiloha‘i which is the name of the brother of the volcano goddess Pele who left him there as a guard as she continued her journey down the island chain.
The remote northern atoll is considered the birthplace of the Hawaiian Islands, and the canoe journey by Kendall and his team of paddlers honored traditional cultural practices by retracing the ancient sea trail followed by Hawaiians centuries ago.
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands – Pathway of the Ancestors
Hawaiian elders know these Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as Nā Mokupuni Nā Kupuna (“The Islands of the Ancestors”). The name of the canoe that Kendall and his ‘ohana of paddlers used to complete the challenging journey was Ke Alakai O Mau Kupuna which means “In the Pathway of Our Ancestors.”
The group of ocean paddlers also committed to sharing their journey with school and community organizations, and produced a video documentary that can be utilized by teachers. The paddling voyage has inspired the next generation to learn about the distant northern islands and the seafaring Hawaiians of ancient times.
Lawe i ka ma‘alea a kū‘ono‘ono.
Take wisdom and make it deep.
Cultural artifacts have been found throughout the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands including ancient home sites, loko i‘a (fishponds), ‘auwai (irrigation ditches), agricultural terraces and stone images.
On Necker Island, known to Hawaiians as Mokumanamana (“Branching Islands”), there is an extensive complex of heiau (sacred places of worship). The steep-sided, fishhook-shaped island was used for ceremonial rites due to its location directly in line with the rising and setting of the equinoctial sun on a sky path known as Ke Ala Polohiwa a Kāne (“The Black Shining Road of Kāne”).
On the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, the sun passes directly over Mokumanamana which is said to sit centrally on the axis between two cultural and spatial dimensions: ao (light, existence) and pō (darkness, creation, and afterlife). The canoe paddlers’ journey from Mokumanamana to Kaūo (Laysan Island) took place in 2006.
Two crews of six paddlers alternated for 83 straight hours. Here is a little about that journey in Kendall’s words:
“Day 3: The terns and frigates arrive in the middle of the night, sentinels of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. They came from our destination; we are happy for their company and guidance. Two birds join us, one on each side of the wa‘a – escorts leading the way home. From the back, steering, I can see all five heads and 10 arms moving in unison in the moonlight. The birds staying in perfect rhythm, one on each side, for what seems like hours.
Day 4: It won’t be an easy night. This is our 39th hour and I see signs of fatigue in the crew. I jump from the pitching deck of the tugboat into the cold, frantic zodiac. Minutes ago I was in a short but deep sleep; now, with my five crew members, I sit huddled in the 14-foot raft, lurching and rocking in the turbulent sea. I try to get my bearings as we wait to exchange crews with the canoe. I hope they will find us as we bob up and down in the huge troughs and the black of night holding tiny glow sticks as our only beacons. Hana hou (one more time).
Day 5: Laysan Island comes faintly into view in the sunrise. My hands are numb, swollen from days in the water; they hurt at every joint. Holding a paddle is difficult, but I can now let my emotions go. We’ve made it: 461 miles. We’ve actually made it!”
Honoring the Vision of a Hawaiian Kupuna
The epic canoe journey along the entire length of the Hawaiian archipelago by Kendall and is fellow paddlers honored the vision of Kawika Kapahulehua, the first captain of the Hōkūle‘a, a replica of an ancient double-hulled voyaging canoe credited with reviving Hawaiian skills of navigating the ocean using only the stars, winds, birds, currents and other clues found in the sea and sky continuum.
The voyages of the Hōkūle‘a are credited with creating a Renaissance in Hawaiian culture that continues today with renewed inspiration provided by passionate ocean paddlers like Kendall who have honored and rediscovered ancient traditions by paddling the sea routes of the ancestors and by living in the spirit of aloha that spreads to others a passion for Hawaii’s ocean, people and culture.
He pūnāwai kahe wale ke aloha.
Love is a spring that flows freely.
Love is without bounds and exists for all.
After the journey Kendall noted how eager he was to “paddle in waters that haven’t been paddled in centuries. It’s new territory and there’s something very gratifying about new territory.”