Iokepa Nae`ole proudly traces his family’s ancestry back to the time of King Kamehameha’s infancy, on the Big Island. Teaching comes naturally to Nae`ole and the vocation has always run in his family. Many know Nae`ole as a canoe paddling coach; he has been an integral part of the statewide success of the Kahului-based Hawaiian Canoe Club and helped guide King Kekaulike High School to a State paddling championship in 2004. He is also an active environmentalist, cultural advocate, and mentor.
Nae`ole’s latest project is the Hawaii Outdoor Experience, a pilot educational initiative funded by the State Office of Youth Services and administered through Neighborhood Place of Wailuku. The program provides up to 80 teenagers with after-school and weekend activities, and “campovers”; parents are invited to go through the program too. Ropes courses offer team building, personal development, trust and leadership skills. Canoe paddling provides a healthy outlet and a metaphor for community life. To function successfully, a canoe crew needs to move in the same direction, contribute to the team while focusing on their specific task, and place trust in the steersman. Long-distance runs and canoe excursions are planned for some weekends.
“We need to educate our young people about traditional values, stewardship, and community life,” says Nae`ole. “The cultural element of the HOE curriculum is about connectedness, developing kinship with the land and ocean. My philosophy revolves around the 3 “E”’s: Experience, exposing youth to real world situations and to the natural world, away from electronics, the mall, and other superficial, material things; Education, especially on environmental and cultural issues; and Empowerment – letting young people know they can to something about their world, whether it’s taking personal action, writing to a County or State official, or attending an event.
“Prevention is an important aspect of the program,” adds Nae`ole. “The young people get so involved and feel so good about their activities, maintaining a positive outlook, they don’t waste their time or have opportunities to get into trouble.”