A Reporter’s Day Covering the Hokule’a

Chris Garcia
The Hokule’a Homecoming: it made news headlines; it brought excitement every time it was mentioned; and it gave me personal insight on Hawaiiana. Being relatively new to Hawai’i, I always wanted to find more ways of experiencing the true nature of the islands. And what I got was a journey.

Everyone in the Ka La newsroom spent over two weeks preparing for the Hokule’a’s arrival. We researched details over the docking: when was Hokule’a coming in; what dock; what time? We needed to know of any camping restrictions; designated viewing spots; possible parking lot closures. This took me all over the place, from the Marine Education Training Center on Sand Island, to the Honolulu Police Department.

 Along the way, I got to really understand why the Hokule’a’s homecoming was a historic event. At the Marine Education Training Center (METC), Seeing other boats docked, with frames and parts in the mechanic bay, I felt humbled to just be there, standing where the Hokule’a had, was, and would being cared for.

I spoke with Jason Patterson, a crew member of the Hokule’a. He told me about the intricacies of sailing, and recounted the feeling of host-countries passing them knowledge. Hokule’a wasn’t sent just to rekindle the ways of Hawaiian sea-faring. She was sent to build bridges! She one of Hawai’i’s state treasure, being shared throughout Polynesia and beyond as a cultural ambassador.

Back in the newsroom, We were all diligent in planning our coverage, doing everything from researching how and where the Hokule’a and its entourage would dock, to scoping out Magic Island for the best photo-op spots. A historic event was soon to unfurl, and there had to be no room for error. At 1:30 on the morning of the June 17th, I got picked up along with the rest of the news crew. We parked at Kewalo Basin and did an equipment check.

I could see early arrivals entering Magic Island and trying to secure a spot, but got booted out by the cops (the state would not allow anyone before 4am). I saw a car getting towed. Ouch.

We had coverage from three different angles – from the rocky end of the park past the lagoon, outrigger canoe launching area of the Hawaii Yacht Club. I took my post at four in the morning, half-asleep and half-awake. But that passed as soon as people started to drift in. It started off small, some passersby pulling their sleeping keiki on wagons, others bringing coolers to the mooring site. Even though security said not to, people set up canopies right next to me.

A woman sitting behind me recounted her feelings of Hokule’a over the years, back from 1976 to present day. She wiped the tears off her cheeks – hau ‘oli was overwhelming her.  But the biggest takeaway is passing the torch, from the kahiko a’e to the keiki. She wants all this culture, the experiences, this feeling, to keep going for generations to come.

Another man, Curtis, was 12 years old when he saw the first Hokule’a come in. Now, he was at this homecoming 38 years later, with his sons, 14 and 23. Curtis said, “we’re waiting for them to come back, to celebrate this occasion with them…I think this would be a good thing for the kids, an awesome thing…”

The crowd increased, with a steady flow of people coming onto Magic Island. Both tourists and locals were pushing up against me. I bumped someone every time I turned – so dense was the crowd – but I was lucky to have secured a place up on the embankment looking right at the receiving dock. My ears heard screams of welcome from so many ohana gathered that morning. Despite the throng, no one was shy to let strangers sit next to them. I was offered drinks and breakfast by some, and felt like crying.

Everyone ecstatically gasped when the Hikimoe was spotted. A lady to my right pulled out binoculars, and someone on my left snapped pictures with her tablet.  Some of the crowd shifted to let the keiki sit on the wall. And when the Hikimoe started to pull in closer to me, the other wa’a followed suit in timely fashion, like clockwork. Visitors echoed the oli proudly, the aloha of it spreading across Magic Island, as the various sea-farers and crews from the voyaging canoes, from Moloka’i to Aotearoa, set foot on O’ahu soil.  

When the Hikianalia was sighted, there was a thunderous release of cheers as the flotilla of escorts drifted closer to shore. By the time the Hokule’a passed Marker 7, tourists behind me were “ooo-ing” and “ahh-ing,” but the ko ‘one’i po’e drowned them out with cries of happiness. When the Hokule’a finally docked, all the pop-up canopies dropped as fast as the wind blew. The rush to see it and crew was on.

As fast as I could, I scurried to the mooring site, dodging onlookers left and right. Keiki were on trees, holding their phones to shoot video and pictures of the crew. The floating docks were blocked with people, with dozens bowing their heads during the oli.

Crew members smiled in their malo. Crowds cheered musicians and bands playing on-stage. Tourists scurried around, checking out every booth, and getting a solid taste of native, real Polynesia.

For me, the most heart-hitting thing was witnessing Hawaiiana spreading from the Hokule’a and Hikianalia, and returning Samoan, Maori, Tahitian, and other Polynesian cultures back with them. In my eyes this was true aloha, not something anyone can get from a postcard or a weekend getaway. This is the culture, the real deal of Hawai’i and Polynesia.