Waterman, photographer, and environmental steward Jesse Yonover was born and raised in Hawai‘i Kai, and grew up surfing and diving the reefs of beautiful Maunalua Bay, right in his backyard. He developed a deep connection to his natural environment and went on to earn a Masters degree in Pacific Island Studies from the University of Hawai‘i, and worked as a marine resource coordinator & community liaison in Maunalua Bay.
Honolulu born and raised Austin Kino was a junior in high school when he first sailed on the legendary Hōkūle‘a voyaging canoe. The experience helped him establish a strong connection between his Hawaiian heritage and his Polynesian ancestors, who continue to share their age-old tradition of open-ocean voyaging. Kino went on to crew on the Hōkūle‘a on three legs of the sailing canoe’s 2015 Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage as an apprentice navigator.
Austin and Jesse partnered up to give back to the community through placed-based educational opportunities in and around Maunalua Bay. Huli, their O‘ahu-based nonprofit, promotes environmental stewardship and cultural awareness by teaching traditional Hawaiian knowledge through a contemporary lens. We caught up with Jesse to talk sharing culture.
How are you creating self-awareness among Island youth?
Our philosophy is sharing knowledge about the natural resources, history, and culture of Maunalua Bay. Many of these students may not have ever been out on the ocean or into the mountains, so first and foremost we give them a formal opportunity in an educational setting to come out and experience this region, whether it’s sailing on the bay sailing, at a fish pond, or up in the mountains to see some of the streams. We establish that connection and then share stories with them. These stories pique their imagination and get their minds going to see what they can contribute to their home and to this place that we all love and cherish. If we can instill in them a love and appreciation for the place that they’re from—that’s a huge success for us.
How does learning about the past prepare them for the future?
Learning about the cultural heritage of Maunalua Bay helps them take better care of this place in the future because they realize that this isn’t just a place for boats. This is a place for living creatures, for fish or whatever other marine life might be in there. Hopefully, what they’re taking away is that we have to make sure that these ecosystems are healthy and thriving. And if they’re not that way right now, then what can we do to change that?
How can a canoe teach teamwork?
When you’re on a canoe you learn that the space is limited, the resources are limited. So keeping good relationships and having a good outlook and mentality when you’re onboard is absolutely necessary. We show that Earth is no different than that. We’re in a place of limited resources and everyone’s life experience will improve if we learn how to work with one another.
How do you live your aloha?
Aloha encompasses the spirit of Hawai‘i, the people of Hawai‘i, and that sense of love and respect that we have for one another here. It’s the underlying tone between so many of the different relationships you have with people, whether they are your co-workers, your family, or your friends. The relationship also extends to nature as well. I developed my love and respect for the land and the ocean simply by spending time in it. It’s the time you put in out there, whether it’s surfing, fishing, hiking, bodysurfing at the beach or just hanging out with friends. That’s where the relationship develops to create that connection.