Hands-on program helped Hana man see the world

Nakua Konohia-Lind now teaching canoe maintenance skills

Hokule‘a crew member Nakua Konohia-Lind of Hana leads the crew in the Hokule‘a ha‘a as the canoe travels through the Panama Canal during the Worldwide Voyage last year. Konohia-Lind’s training in Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike, a nonprofit building program in Hana, led him to do maintenance on Hokule‘a in college and eventually become a crew member after meeting legendary navigator Nainoa Thompson. Polynesian Voyaging Society / JUSTYN AH CHONG photos

Nakua Konohia-Lind was in 7th grade when Rick Rutiz and a group of high school students from Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike came to build a portable house for his great-grandmother.

Konohia-Lind was, as his great-grandmother would say, “niele,” and when he wasn’t helping make lunch for the workers, he slipped outside to ask how he could help. Some of the older kids were skeptical. Rutiz wasn’t.

“If he wants to learn, it’s better for us,” Rutiz said, and handed him a sander.

Konohia-Lind got to work on some pieces of 4-by-4, and “after that, I pretty much got hooked,” he said.

The sanding lessons that started in a Hana backyard would take Konohia-Lind from building cottages to repairing the voyaging canoe Hokule’a and later captaining the canoe during its homecoming tour. Now, the 24-year-old hopes to give back to the community with the tools he’s gained at home and abroad.

Nakua Konohia-Lind steers Hokule‘a during the trip from Florida to Panama.

Rutiz remembers when Konohia-Lind first joined Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike (in working, one learns) at the age of 14. Rutiz is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit, which is geared toward at-risk youths and teaches building skills while doing projects for the community.

“Every day, all he could wait for is to get to work, work, work,” Rutiz said of Konohia-Lind.

Rutiz, a contractor for more than 30 years, taught him how to sand, lay cement, put in roofing and install electrical and plumbing. They built cottages for kupuna in the community, handicapped-access ramps and railings and facilities at Hana High and Elementary School. Three of Konohia-Lind’s brothers have also been involved with the program.

“After working with Rick, I pretty much had the confidence to be able to build a house from the ground up,” Konohia-Lind said. “Throughout my whole high school career, besides sports and extracurricular things, I was always working.”

Rutiz said Konohia-Lind didn’t like math when he first joined and asked to do any job that didn’t involve numbers. But as he learned to read a tape measure and order materials, “parts of math started clicking.”

“You show him once, twice, and that was the end of the story,” Rutiz said. “When he realizes that the piece of koa trim that’s he’s milled himself and planed and sanded for two days, and he’s cutting it to size, he can’t miss by a 1/16th (of an inch).”

Over the years, the program also instilled a work ethic in Konohia-Lind that would later impress Hokule’a’s captains.

Konohia-Lind met Nainoa Thompson partly because he was late to class. His navigation class at Honolulu Community College was taking a tour of Hokule’a in 2012, and Konohia-Lind was running behind. Hurrying aboard the canoe, he encountered Thompson at the top of the stairs. The self-described “Mr. Moke Boy from the East Side of Maui” unabashedly introduced himself to the legendary navigator.

The two struck up a conversation and discovered that Konohia-Lind’s great-grandfather Sam Kalalau had sailed with Thompson on Hokule’a’s 1976 maiden voyage to Tahiti. Thompson’s face lit up.

“He said, ‘Go upstairs, grab the crew papers and sign it. I need you on this canoe,'” Konohia-Lind recalled. “I didn’t hesitate. Sir, yes, sir!”

As part of the college’s Marine Education Training Center, Konohia-Lind was learning to do maintenance on boats of all kinds. Thompson had once asked if the class could sand the bottom of the canoe, and since then Konohia-Lind had been called back to do various jobs on the canoe.

After his meeting with Thompson, “everything happened instantly,” Konohia-Lind said. He accompanied the crew on sails around Oahu and learned his way around the canoe. Before a statewide sail, he was assigned to be the cook, a task that no one wanted and that fell to Konohia-Lind because, as a fellow crew member reasoned: “He work Jamba Juice that’s why.”

Konohia-Lind never made a smoothie on board but cooked well enough to keep the job on multiple legs of Hokule’a’s three-year Worldwide Voyage. He sailed on 13 legs, including stops in New Zealand, Panama and on the East Coast of the U.S. He was also aboard Hokule’a’s sister canoe, Hikianalia, during the first leg from Hawaii to Tahiti in 2014, overseeing the stores of food, water and supplies as the quartermaster.

Every year, the crew would pull Hokule’a out of the water for maintenance. Dry-dock work “is not something anybody wants to do,” Konohia-Lind said. Most voyagers would rather be out on the water. But Konohia-Lind was happy to volunteer his boat maintenance skills.

“I just like work,” he said.

In November, Konohia-Lind captained Hokule’a for the first time as the canoe sailed into Hana during its Mahalo, Hawaii Sail. The canoe traveled from Lahaina to La Perouse “until we ran out of wind” and had to be towed the rest of the way. Konohia-Lind was concerned about going through the Alenuihaha Channel between Hana and Kohala, “one of the roughest” in the island chain.

“It ended up no wind and small swells,” he said. “Everyone said our aumakua was with us. . . . I was kind of scared at first (to captain), but everything panned out just fine.”

Now back on land, Konohia-Lind lives in Hana — in a house he and his brothers bought — and commutes to Napili to teach kids maintenance for double-hulled canoes through Hui O Wa’a Kaulua, Maui’s voyaging society. He hopes the program will have the same effect Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike had on him — giving kids a skill, keeping them out of trouble and teaching them to give back to the community.

Rutiz said Konohia-Lind hasn’t changed from the humble, hardworking kid he first met a decade ago.

“He just came from a very humble, loving background,” Rutiz said. “He had a constant desire to learn and to find better ways to solve a problem. . . . He’s an absolute gem. Everyone who meets him feels that way.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.