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Restoring Wai?anae's Floating Classroom

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Sen. Maile Shimabukuro
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As H?k?le?a continues its Mahalo Hawai?i sail across the island chain, school kids are getting a taste of this floating classroom. The voyaging canoe will spend another week on the leeward coast before continuing its statewide journey. Fortunate enough for aspiring voyagers in Wai?anae, that community is working on its own voyaging canoe. HPR’s Ku?uwehi Hiraishi has this story.

Marine science was the most popular class at Wai?anae High School in the 1990s. Why? Because the classroom was a 45-foot-long double-hulled canoe named E Ala.

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Credit E Ala Voyaging Academy
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E Ala Voyaging Academy
The double-hulled voyaging canoe E Ala was the most popular floating classroom at Wai'anae High School in the 1990s. The canoe is being rebuilt after more than a decade of inactivity.

“The way I stayed in school was because of the canoe, was one way for just stay connected in a way,” says Sam Kapoi, a H?k?le?a crew member from Wai?anae.

Kapoi represented the Wai?anae community on H?k?le?a’s three-year worldwide voyage. He now co-captains Wai?anae’s voyaging canoe E Ala, and helps run the E Ala Voyaging Academy.

“With the canoe you can learn everything,” says Kapoi, “You can learn your science, your math, your geography, biology, oceanography, technical sailing, speed sailing, everything.”

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Credit E Ala Voyaging Academy
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E Ala Voyaging Academy
E Ala Co-Captain Sam Kapoi (far right) crewed the Hokule'a on its Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage. E Ala's new home, a halau wa'a, near Wai'anae Boat Harbor is seen in the background. Kapoi is part of a new crop of voyagers in Wai'anae taking the lead in getting the community's voyaging canoe E Ala back in the water.

E Ala was inspired by the historic voyage of H?k?le?a in 1976. The successful voyage from Hawai?i to Tahiti proved ancient Polynesians could have navigated more than 2,500 miles of open ocean without nautical instruments. While the voyaging canoe was in active use in the 90s, E Ala has been stuck on land for nearly two decades.

“After 2001, she sat on land for about 10 years because of financial issues and insurance and what not,” says Kaina Nakanealoha, who co-captains the canoe E Ala and is overseeing efforts to refurbish her.

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Credit E Ala Voyaging Academy
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E Ala Voyaging Academy
E Ala's new home at Wai'anae Boat Harbor was dedicated in 2014. The community continues to meet here to work on getting E Ala back in the water.

“In that time through water rot and termites,” says Nakanealoha, “ W had to take her completely apart down back down to just the shell and rebuild her.”

Over the past six years, the community was able to secure a home for E Ala at the Wai?anae Boat Harbor and successfully raised funds for the refurbishing work.

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Credit E Ala Voyaging Academy
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E Ala Voyaging Academy
Nakanealoha is seen here towing Hokule'a out of Hale'iwa on it's way to Kaua'i as part of the Mahalo Hawai'i sail. Nakanealoha is one of several crew members from Wai'anae who trained on Hokule'a during the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage.

“The same process that we did with H?k?le?a in making her lighter, faster, and stronger, we wanna do with E Ala,” says Nakanealoha.

Nakanealoha was first introduced to voyaging on E Ala, as a student at Wai?anae High School.  He’s committed to ensuring E Ala can inspire the next generation of voyagers coming out of Wai?anae.

“Just her name alone, her name E Ala, to rise, yeah,” says Nakanealoha, “The reason for her name is hoping that anybody who came in contact with E Ala would have that feeling, that wanting to rise up, to take their place in their household, as a person, and in their community, in this island, in the world.”

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