Great teachers have been the navigators of Nainoa Thompson’s ’72 life, planting seeds of opportunity, lighting paths for exploration and showing him how to be patient in the pursuit of his goals.
This June, Thompson and a crew of 245 completed the three-year Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage through three oceans and safe harbor in 150 ports. Hokule‘a’s voyage shared messages of sustainability and inspired people on other shores to join in stewarding the world’s natural resources.
The shy boy from Niu Valley may never have been at the helm of the transformative Malama Honua movement had it not been for Punahou fifth-grade teacher Mabel Hefty, who was one of Thompson’s early educators. As a young child, Thompson had been labeled educationally slow and unable to read well, and he began to fear education. Mrs. Hefty did not allow Thompson to believe that narrative.
“She just held you and hugged you and said, ‘You are not going to become that,’” recalled Thompson.
Football coach Charlie Ane ’49 was another teacher with lasting influence. Thompson wasn’t the best or the biggest player, but Ane gave him the chance to play and belong to a team. “Every day was hard,” Thompson said. “And participation was earned.”
“I’m not a master navigator,” said Thompson. “I am the student of the greatest navigator on the planet, but I’m also a student of some extraordinary teachers that came after Punahou. Punahou basically planted the seed, set the foundation for the ability to go learn.”
Artist and Polynesian Voyaging Society founder Herb Kane. Big wave surfer Eddie Aikau. Micronesian master navigator Mau Piailug. His father, Myron “Pinky” Thompson ’43. Astronaut and best friend Charles “Lacy” Veach ’62. These were Thompson’s teachers.
Kane shared with Thompson his dream of traditional voyaging. Aikau would teach him about helping the helpless. Piailug taught Thompson how to use Mother Nature’s clues to guide Hokule‘a to places he couldn’t see, and father Pinky gave him the values needed to get there. Veach inspired the idea of an island earth, an inheritance for our children.
They navigated Thompson to the position he is in today: a visionary, a quiet leader, an explorer. The three-year Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage is the product of his learning.
“In the end, when we look at things we’re going to do, especially at my age, I’m not going to do things that I know I can do. I’m not going to do things that are easy or that I’ve already done,” Thompson told a Punahou alumni audience. “You need to do what you can’t do but you believe you must, and it comes from the Mabel Heftys, the Charlie Anes. In the hardness, in the difficulty, is where you grow.”