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Health > More Health StoriesFall 2011 IS Magazine10/5/11 IS Online

Nainoa Thompson’s Personal Fitness Challenge

He trains hard to be a better navigator and a better dad.

By Elisa Yadao and Craig DeSilva

For Nainoa Thompson, the ocean is fundamental to his well-being, physically, culturally, and spiritually. It’s been that way his entire life.

One of his most important and influential teachers was a milkman on his grandfather’s dairy farm who taught him how to fish in Maunalua Bay when Thompson was 4 years old. Yoshi Kawano turned the bay into Thompson’s first ocean classroom. Years later, Thompson’s first job was as a commercial fisherman. The 13-year-old would sell his catch out of a cooler, standing next to the gas pumps at the neighborhood service station.

Thompson grew up surfing, diving, and paddling canoe, competing in the Moloka‘i Hoe more than 25 times. But he is perhaps best known as the navigator of the voyaging canoe Hōkūle‘a, guiding Hōkūle‘a on 10 voyages throughout the Pacific and inspiring the revival of traditional celestial navigation throughout Polynesia and beyond.

So it’s ironic to hear him admit, “I love to swim, but I’m not good at it.”

Thompson is training for his first swim across Maunalua Bay – a four-mile course from Portlock to Black Point. It is a very personal challenge.

“I’m 58 and I feel it. I’m not as strong as I used to be. When I was in my 20s, I was in the water every day. My life has changed, so finding the time to get in the water is hard,” he says.

The biggest change is Thompson’s role as a father. He and his wife, KHON2 weekend weather anchor Kathy Muneno, are the parents of 2-year-old twins.

So now, like everyone else who has to juggle the competing demands of family and work, Thompson has to map his journey to well-being. He’s set some lofty goals, both for himself and for Hōkūle‘a and the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS), which Thompson leads.

In 2013, Hōkūle‘a will embark on a four-year voyage around the globe to new waters, including the Indian and Atlantic oceans, and new continents – Australia, Africa, and North and South America. “The better health I’m in, the better I can navigate,” says Thompson.

Before the Worldwide Voyage, Thompson plans to climb to the top of Mauna Loa, which he says is “about getting spiritually connected.” And he’s going to paddle across the Moloka‘i Channel in his one-man canoe. “That channel is a classroom, a complex set of islands, wind, waves, and currents,” he says. “It’s a new learning experience every time I do it.”

To accomplish these goals, he’ll have to train, hard. And that’s how he stays fit.

Thompson tries to keep a consistent land and sea training regimen. In addition to long-distance races with the Hui Nalu canoe club, he paddles his one-man canoe at Ke‘ehi Lagoon, where the PVS office is located, or in Maunalua Bay at night to study the stars.

For Thompson, the Worldwide Voyage is his succession plan for the next generation of leadership – navigators, captains, crewmembers, educators, and support crew – who will carry the PVS into the future. Nurturing that next generation is a fitting way to honor all of Thompson’s teachers, including Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug, who died last summer.

Thompson’s most important work is to help navigate the life’s journey of his children. “Before the children, the risk of voyaging was primarily mine. Now, it’s their father going out to sea, not just Nainoa,” he says. That love for family drives Thompson to stay healthy.

“While it is a personal goal, I don’t do it for me, but for the well-being of my family. I’ll be less of a dad if I’m not in good health,” he says.

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