adventure

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
The Storytellers

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: The Storytellers

 

This special edition of LONG STORY SHORT is a compilation of Leslie’s past conversations with several of Hawai‘i’s storytellers. We feature the playwright and author Victoria Kneubuhl, whose rich stories aim to amplify Hawai‘i voices and perspectives; Florence “Johnny” Frisbie, who, at 15 years old, documented her childhood adventures on the remote Cook Islands in her autobiography Miss Ulysses from Puka-Puka; and Phil Arnone, who built a long career on telling Hawai‘i’s stories as a television director and producer.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 25, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 29, at 4:00 pm.

Bluegrass Underground Special

 

Taped 333-feet below ground within Tennessee’s extraordinary Cumberland Caverns, this music special showcases well-established and emerging artists within the broad spectrum of Bluegrass, Jam Band, Roots-Rock, Neo-Folk and Americana genres. Featured artists include Andrew Bird, Vince Gill, Jason Isbell, Widespread Panic, Lucinda Williams, Lee Ann Womack and others.

 

GLOBE TREKKER
Tough Boats: The Amazon

GLOBE TREKKER - Tough Boat Journeys: The Amazon

 

On a remarkable 250 mile, three day journey through a remote rainforest, Holly Morris travels by cargo boat down one stretch of the Amazon in Peru. Sleeping in a hammock at night, she shares deck space with over 200 local Peruvians and countless boxes of vegetables and fruit, heading to the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, Iquitos. Here, she explores the history of this unique and remarkable city before moving on to her second destination, the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Paul and Grace Atkins

 

Filmmakers Paul and Grace Atkins have never shied away from adventure. Partners in both life and career, their acclaimed natural history documentaries have told the stories of our planet in breathtaking, never-before-seen ways. They have worked with National Geographic, BBC and Discovery Channel, as well as some of the most well-known directors in the film industry. This special Valentine’s Day episode spotlights a couple that has boldly embarked on a life full of adventure and purpose, supporting each other every step of the way.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Aug. 23, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Aug. 27, at 4:00 pm.

 

Paul and Grace Atkins Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

PAUL: Many times, I’ve been filming something, and especially if you’ve got a wide angle lens, ‘cause that something, if it’s a shark or if it’s wave, it’s usually very close to the camera, and you’re inside this movie, and suddenly you take your eye away, and you go, Whoa!

 

GRACE:           Yeah.

 

PAUL: I’m doing that? You know. Suddenly, reality hits you. There’s a desire to get images that no one’s ever seen, there’s a desire to tell a story.

 

You’re very goal-oriented.

 

PAUL: Which is very goal-oriented.

 

Outcome-oriented; right?

 

PAUL: I’m not an adrenalin junkie. I wouldn’t be climbing mountains or diving deep, without a camera in my hands. I wouldn’t do it, normally.

 

GRACE:    I would think also, too, it’s not that you also, too want to tell a story that’s gonna have an effect on the planet. Because, I mean, both of us really have a science background, so we want to tell these stories that we think will do good. We both grew up on Geographic, we grew up on all these wonderful natural history documentaries that really had a mission of trying to better our world and better the planet.

 

Paul and Grace Atkins blaze their own trail as filmmakers with their natural history documentaries. The duo has delighted a global audience with rare footage of exotic and often dangerous environments, and the forces of nature. Paul and Grace Atkins, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. For over three decades, filmmakers Paul and Grace Atkins of Honolulu have traversed the globe, documenting breathtaking natural events, little-know rituals of wildlife, and spectacular imagery for National Geographic, the BBC, the Discovery Channel, and PBS. Paul and Grace, affectionately known as Gracie, are not only a team in filmmaking, but in life as well. This married couple discovered they had a common passion for natural history documentaries, and set out together to follow their passion.

 

Paul Atkins was just five years old when he first got interested in nature while watching fishermen pull up stingrays, crabs, and eels from the muddy waters of his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. He pursued his interest in zoology, which took him to the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the 1970s.

 

PAUL: I was determined to be a marine biologist, and I was working on my doctorate. I just started to feel that even as much as I loved the ocean, and I loved the people I was working with, I loved scuba diving, and I loved being out in the field, the idea that I was going to eventually end up getting a job and being, you know, on a faculty somewhere was not really my dream of the sort of life that I wanted to lead. And then, I picked up, you know, the department’s movie camera, because we used to use the camera to film fish underwater for the research that we were doing, coral reef fish. We were like, doing research on what happens on the coral reef when it changes from the day to the night shift. ‘Cause there’s a whole switchover underwater that happens with the fish. So, we were using lowlight cameras and a lot of cool technology to study that, and I started taking some of these cameras and just training in on grad student friends of mine and getting them to act, and making little home movies, and then, I got an editing table. And it wasn’t long before I started to realize that this is what I really want to do. And actually, I remember the moment when I decided, because … I cut together a film that I’d shot with the department’s Super 8 camera, and we had done some shark fishing off Waikiki as a part of a research project. This was back in the 70s. And I was intending just to document it. And then, I recreated some scenes, and recreated some dream sequences and turned this thing into a movie. And I took the sound track to Jaws, the movie which had just come out, and I took that music, and I cut it up into this dramatic music, and I made something else out of it. And I showed it to faculty and grad student friends of mine at a party we had. And I showed this, and I got this amazing, you know, enthusiastic response from my grad student buddies, and faculty. They were like, Wow, can we watch that again? [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s what creates a career. [CHUCKLE]

 

PAUL: Until that moment, I had no idea that something I’d created was gonna have that effect on an audience, and I was just hooked. I was hooked.

 

Filmmaker Grace Akins grew up in Oregon, California, Virginia, Austria, and Hawai‘i. Much like her husband Paul, she was fascinated with anything outdoors, the ocean, and animals.

 

Your father was a fisheries biologist.

 

GRACE:           Yes, he was.

 

And your stepfather knew the ocean, and he was an expert diver.

 

GRACE:           Yes, he was. He was a Navy SEAL. And my real father was a fisheries biologist who actually worked here in Hawaii for a number of years. I’d been mostly a university student. I’d been seven years at San Francisco State University studying, was a pre-med biology major. And then I got very interested in broadcasting, and so, I went through the whole broadcasting undergraduate program as well as the master’s program there. I knew I wanted to do natural history, or I wanted to do science documentaries. And at the time I went to school, there was really no definitive program that taught you how to do natural history films. I think it was Stanford that had one graduate course that I took in science communications, but other than that, it was a field that was wide open.

 

Before they met, Paul and Grace Atkins both dreamed of creating natural history films. Their chance encounter at Hanauma Bay, Oahu in the 1970s would launch them into their field of dreams.

 

PAUL: I was actually at Hanauma Bay scuba diving with a woman. I wasn’t dating her. I’d just met her, and we decided to go scuba diving together. And I had come out of the water, and so, we had our scuba gear, and we were starting to trudge up that hill. And then, the woman I was with saw the lifeguard and said, Oh, there’s—what was the lifeguard’s name?

 

GRACE:           John.

 

PAUL: John; John. She said, Oh, there’s John, I want to go say hello to John. And I thought, Oh, no; come on, really? And so, I followed her back over, you know, to the lifeguard stand, and then, I saw this beautiful blond in a yellow bikini there at the lifeguard stand. And … that was Gracie. And so, we put our scuba tanks down, and the woman I was with started talking to John the lifeguard, and I struck up a conversation with Gracie.

 

GRACE:           M-hm.

 

PAUL: And I was startled, because we had a lot of the same interests. So, we started talking about making films together.

 

GRACE:           Yeah.

 

PAUL: You know, from the get-go, we just started talking about how this is kinda what we wanted to do. And the conversation just kept going on, and it went on so long, you know, that the woman I was with wanted to leave, and she was getting sort of irritated. And so, we traded uh, phone numbers. And then, the funny thing was, is after that, after we traded phone numbers, I’d give Gracie a call, and we’d have like a forty-five-minute conversation on the phone. And I would go, Well, this is going really well. And then, at the end, I would ask her out. She would always be busy. She’d say, Well, no, I’m sorry, I can’t, I’m busy. And then [CHUCKLE] …

 

What’s the story there?

 

GRACE:           That’s true, actually. [CHUCKLE]

 

Because you were busy?

 

GRACE:           I was busy. Yes. I really enjoyed talking to him, too. We had some of the greatest conversations, and then all of a sudden, he stopped calling. And I just thought, Wait a second, Paul hasn’t called. And I went to look for his number to call him to say, Let’s go out. And I couldn’t find his number. And the next day, he called. And I was so thankful he called, because I would never have been able to reach him, ‘cause I didn’t know where he lived. I just knew his name and his phone number, and that he lived in town. So, we went out, and that was it. We went out on a date, and we actually haven’t separated since, except for when you’ve gone on shoots. [CHUCKLE]

 

And you did exactly what you talked about doing.

 

GRACE:           Oh, yeah; we did.

 

You started a wildlife film company.

 

GRACE:           We did.

 

And did documentaries.

 

GRACE:           Yeah.

 

The relationship of Paul and Grace Atkins blossomed, and they pursued their passion for each other, and their dream of producing natural history documentaries. They began their filmmaking partnership with Paul as the cinematographer and director, and Grace as the producer and sound recordist.

 

GRACE:           At that time, there just was nothing that really would define how one made these kind of films and went about creating a career in that. So, when we started, we were really kind of like forging our way into a newer … world, a new way of making films, and basically had to do it all on our own.

 

PAUL: And I think it was the combination of, you know, just having the courage, really, to try it. Because now, you were a team. Now, you were two people.

 

GRACE:           M-hm.

 

PAUL: And Gracie brought in a sense that I didn’t really have, which was a business sense, about finances, how to use a credit card. I didn’t even have a credit card, or just know how to use one, you know.

 

GRACE:           [CHUCKLE]

 

PAUL: And I brought in this desire, you know, and vision about shooting and making films, and I was sure I could do it, even though I barely knew what I was doing.

 

GRACE:           Our first shoots were in Palau. And that’s when we were starting to evolve our career. We figured that the only way we were gonna get our career started was to make a film and present it to somebody to see.

 

Find a client later; right?

 

GRACE:           Yeah; find a client later. And so, we raised money to be able to go to these places that we wanted to do films.

 

PAUL: M-hm, m-hm.

 

GRACE:           And basically started—

 

PAUL: But a lot of things during this period kind of came together and happened.

 

GRACE:           Yeah.

 

PAUL: You know. I was dreaming about doing this, I met Gracie, and we talked about being a team. And about the same time, I was introduced to Arthur Jones, who was a billionaire inventor of Nautilus exercise machines. And he was spending a lot of his money that he was making on Nautilus exercise machines on a television studio in Lake Helen, Florida. He was going all over the world just filming things. And he showed up in Hawaii, and Bruce Carlson at the Waikiki Aquarium introduced me to him. And so, Arthur hired me for a couple of days to be a grip.

 

GRACE:           M-hm.

 

PAUL: And I started to learn a little bit more about video cameras, working for him. And so, Arthur … the name of his company was Nautilus, because it was based on the cam of his exercise machines, which was based on the spiral design of a nautilus shell. Arthur decided he wanted to mount an expedition to go to Palau to bring chambered nautilus back to be at his studio in Lake Helen, Florida so he could have them in a big aquarium there. And expense didn’t matter. He would pay whatever. And so, I got to know him, and I talked him into—I said, Well, why don’t you do a documentary about this trip, about the expedition to catch live nautilus. And he said, Fine. And I said, I want to shoot it. And he said, Sure. [CHUCKLE] We barely knew what we were doing, but over the course of a couple of trips down there, we managed to get enough footage to put together, you know, a semblance of a documentary.

 

Wasn’t that an award-winning documentary?

 

GRACE:           Yes.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

GRACE:           Actually.

 

PAUL: But not until we showed it to Jim Young, who was, you know, the executive director of Hawaii Public Television at that time. And Jim became a big supporter. And he became, you know, a believer before we had a lot of footage, when he saw the first footage. And he basically said, you know, I will donate editing facility and services to you to edit this show, and we’ll make sure we get it on Public Television and broadcast it. So, that was a great deal.

 

Because you had a billionaire in your pocket.

 

PAUL: Yeah. Well—

 

GRACE:           Actually, at that point in time, no.

 

PAUL: He abandoned us.

 

GRACE:           He abandoned us.

 

Oh, did he?

 

PAUL: He abandoned.

 

GRACE:           He gave us the footage [INDISTINCT].

 

PAUL: After the first expedition, he said … You’ll never make anything out of this footage. That’s what he told us. He said, Nobody wants this kind of documentary. He said, But, he said, I’ll give you the rights to this footage. He said, I’ll have the rights, you have the rights to see what you can make out of it. And so, we took that, and then got KHET’s support.

 

GRACE:           And some more grants.

 

PAUL: And then, we wrote some more grants and went back to Palau, and embellished it and shot more of the expedition, and actually did a better job. You know, that film was like our film school. We were learning along the way.

 

Learn by redoing.

 

GRACE:           Yes.

 

PAUL: Learn by redoing. Oh, that didn’t work, let’s reshoot that. You know. And then, a good friend, Mike deGruy, who’s also a resident of HawaiiH, you know, he several years ago was killed in a helicopter crash. But he did a lot of films for KHET as well during that period.

 

GRACE:           M-hm.

 

PAUL:             And he was our partner, and we were—you know, some people called us the Three Musketeers. We did a lot of work together.

 

And you were just feeling it out as you went.

 

PAUL: Oh, we totally were.

 

GRACE:           Yes.

 

PAUL: Oh, yeah.

 

GRACE:           Completely. [CHUCKLE]

 

PAUL: There was no …

 

GRACE:           That’s an understatement, to say the least. [CHUCKLE]

 

PAUL: There was no model—

GRACE:           There was nothing.

 

PAUL: –having to do this at all.

 

GRACE:           Yeah. There was no YouTube, there was no internet, there was no online courses. And very few productions that were going on, too. Yeah.

 

PAUL: And there weren’t that many natural history films being produced. This was the very beginning. You know, cable had not exploded yet.

 

Through the success of their award-winning nautilus documentary, filmmakers Paul and Grace Atkins of Honolulu continued their journey into documentary filmmaking. They traveled to little-known locations across the world, capturing forces of nature never seen before on film, such as the feeding rituals of great white sharks and killer whales.

 

PAUL: Killer whales feeding on seal pups, actually. Yeah; and yes, we shot this. Mike deGruy was involved in this, too. We shot it in Patagonia, Argentina for a BBC series, a David Attenborough series called Trials of Life. Which back in the 90s, that was, you know, the Planet Earth. You know, that Planet Earth is still well-known today, but that’s how well known Trials of Life was in the 90s. Anyway, we were there for five weeks in Patagonia, Argentina on a beach, and the killer whales would slide up the beach and grab sea lion pups off the beach, and then wiggle, and back into the water.

 

What are some of the other adventures you’ve had together?

 

GRACE:           I think one of our most difficult and challenging films, and yet one of the most satisfying in a long time, because it turned out so well, was the one we did on dolphins for Geographic. When we started that film, we wanted to take a film that looked at the opposite of what the public perception of an animal was. For example, like dolphins. Dolphins are always thought to be sweetness and light, and everybody loves a dolphin. So, we wanted to look at the darker side of dolphins, which meant we were not only just looking at tursiops, but we were looking all the dolphin family. And killer whales are a part of them, and certain kind of whales and things. So, this allowed us to expand our stories that we wanted to tell. And so, we started making this film. So, we went out to a location called—what was that place?

 

PAUL: Cape Peron.

 

GRACE:           Cape Peron.

 

PAUL: We camped out.

 

GRACE:           Yeah.

 

PAUL: Camped out for weeks with the flies.

 

GRACE:           And that was …

 

Waiting for a scene.

 

GRACE:           For the scene of the dolphins.

 

PAUL: M-hm.

 

And that’s really part of a documentarian’s life, isn’t it?

 

GRACE:           Yeah.

 

Waiting.

 

GRACE:           Waiting; waiting.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

Just waiting.

 

GRACE:           So, we went out to this location, and we built a camp there, and the scientist was with us and said, This is the best time of year for you to be able to see dolphins herding fish. And we had never heard of dolphins actually coming and herding fish onto shore, just like the killer whales had done in Patagonia. So, we set up our camp and our tents and everything. And for weeks, we were trying to, you know, see this action happen. And it wasn’t happening, so the scientist said, Well, something must not be right, we’re not at the right time of season. I can’t tell you what it takes to get an expedition all the way out to a remote location like that. The weeks and the months of planning, and then also, the physical actual moving out there and setting up your camps, and getting all your gear ready, and then doing the shooting.

 

PAUL: ‘Cause there’s not power.

 

GRACE:           M-hm; yeah.

 

PAUL: You need to bring all your food, your water, you know, solar showers, generators, all of that out there, charging batteries, all of that.

 

GRACE:           ‘Cause there’s nothing out there. So okay, so we’re there for two weeks and decide, oh, well, this is not gonna happen this time, so we’re gonna have to come back at another time. We lived out on this location for like, two months. And you become connected with an environment like you never would, because there’s nobody out there; just us. And the dolphins sure enough came in, a family of dolphins. And they would come in, and they would herd the fish. And we were on this huge, long beach, maybe three hundred feet of beach. And those dolphins would come in and herd the fish, and Paul would be out there with his camera. Ann Marie, our assistant, who was working with us, she and I would be up on the hills spotting and telling him where the dolphins were coming, and where they were going. And he would run up and down this beach trying to film them, because as soon as he would get up to film, the dolphins would see him and would go to another section of the beach. [CHUCKLE] And so, there would be Paul with his camera gear, humping it all the way to the other side of the beach. And finally, you know, we got the footage.

 

PAUL: After two trips.

 

GRACE:           After two trips.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

Had anyone ever gotten these photos?

 

GRACE:           No; no.

 

This film before?

 

PAUL: No.

 

GRACE:           No.

 

In 2003, Paul Atkins used the skills he honed shooting documentaries to work on a Hollywood feature film, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, starring Russell Crowe. The film’s director, Peter Weir, wanted authentic footage of stormy seas. So, Paul Atkins boarded a ship for a forty-two-day expedition around the treacherous waters of Cape Horn to capture storm footage.

 

PAUL: We were on a replica of Captain Cook’s ship, which was built in Australia. It had been sailing around the world in various places, but it’d never sailed around Cape Horn before. It’d never been to these kind of conditions. We were with an Australian captain; his name was Chris Blake. Great guy. But he had never sailed around Cape Horn either. So, we’re sailing around the most dangerous waters of the world, and we’re approaching them, and no one on the ship has done this before. So, it was really scary.

 

I mean, they were huge waves; right? I mean, what about keeling over?

 

PAUL: We were in the open ocean, and the swells were about fifty-foot swells. And some of them were breaking. And there’s no land out there, there’s no rocks, but they were breaking on the open ocean. And the winds got up to about seventy-five knots. And the ocean, I’ve never seen anything like it; it looks like just sculptures, it’s foam-swept, it’s just foam everywhere.

 

Okay; what is there about you—and you too, ‘cause you were ready to go on this trip, that would submit to that risk?

 

GRACE:           Yeah. Well, you think of it as a risk, you think of the adventure, you think of what you’re getting to film, what you’re gonna be, you know, making.

 

But then, nature; I mean, there’s some factors you can’t plan for or control against.

 

GRACE:           Well, that’s true, too. But you try to plan for everything that you can, and over-plan. You know, so far, we’ve been always pretty successful, ‘cause no one’s really ever gotten hurt.

 

PAUL: Ooh, wow; that is hot. It’s like hot water to my hand. Let’s get suited up.

 

GRACE:          For our science documentary, it hasn’t been this been this thrill-seeking thing, it’s been more about telling a story that will do something better for the world. And it just so happens that some of the things involve a little bit more risky, you know, endeavors.

 

And I think you’re curious, too.

 

GRACE:           Yeah.

 

PAUL: You’re curious.

 

GRACE:           Yes.

 

So, you want to follow that thread.

 

PAUL: You’re definitely curious. And then, there’s one other aspect to it that I realized as well, is the exhilaration of knowing that you were afraid, and you did it anyway.

 

GRACE:           Yeah.

 

PAUL: And you came through the other end, and everything’s okay. There is an exhilaration to that. It might be dangerous exhilaration, but there’s a feeling of, you know, like for example, I used to have a fear of heights. And even today, if I stand on a vertical cliff and look straight down … it’s a mild case of vertigo. And so, to film on cliffs, which I’ve done a lot of, and to film from a helicopter, I had to get over that. I had to really get over it.

 

Master and Commander won an Academy Award for cinematography in 2004. At the same time, Paul and Grace Atkins began to expand their work beyond documentaries to commercials and narrative films. The pair struck up a relationship with acclaimed film director Terrence Malick, and Paul worked with him as a cinematographer on films such as The Tree of Life and the IMAX film, Voyage of Time.

 

PAUL: I’m in love with camerawork and visual storytelling, no matter what it involves. And I did at one point in my career, you know, get a little … I don’t know if tired is the word, but I needed to expand beyond just doing wildlife and sitting and waiting, and that kind of thing. But now, I enjoy flipping back and forth. I think it’s good. You take lessons from one discipline, and apply them to the other. It’s great; I love it. You know, I love working with actors, and I work with a lot of directors like Terrence Malick, who give their actors a lot of freedom both in dialog and in movement. So, as a cameraman, it’s not like you have marks on the floor.

 

Then your background is great for that.

 

PAUL: My background is like, I know how to do this, ‘cause I’ve filmed animals before.

 

[LAUGHTER]

 

Paul Atkins says that film director Terrence Malick shared one of the most important lessons in his life, telling Paul not to play it safe, and to give yourself permission to fail. Otherwise, you’ll never rise above mediocrity. As for overall wisdom, Paul credits Gracie as the most influential person in his life.

 

PAUL: In our personal relationship, you know, Gracie, I always say, taught me how to argue. I’m born and raised in the Deep South.

 

GRACE:           Very non-confrontational.

 

PAUL: And very congenial sort of social structure there. People don’t argue, in public at least. They want to put on a good impression.

 

They refer to the war as the Great Unpleasantness.

 

[LAUGHTER]

 

PAUL: Right; yeah. Yeah; exactly.

 

GRACE:           Exactly. That was your mother.

 

PAUL: Yeah. M-hm; yeah. And I didn’t know how to argue, and also, if somebody got angry with me, I kept it bottled up.

 

GRACE:           M-hm.

 

PAUL: And I retained it, and I resented it for a long time. Even the next day, I’d still be like, angry or hurt about it. And Gracie, you know, I don’t know how, just beat that out of me.

 

GRACE:           [MIMICS WHIPPING SOUND]

 

PAUL: ‘Cause we would get into an argument, and Gracie would be very direct about the way she was feeling at that moment. And then, it could be over for Gracie, ‘cause she’s finished with it. And then, she’d try to move on to something else, and I’m still like, Wait a minute.

 

And you haven’t really spoken about it yet.

 

PAUL: Yeah; exactly.

 

GRACE:           But maybe that’s the artist in you, where you actually are still thinking about it, while I’m more the action person. I get in there, and I figure out what has to be done, do it, and move on to the next.

 

PAUL: M-hm; m-hm.

 

GRACE:           And that’s just the way of a producer, I think. You’re the creative type, and you sit and you think about things. The years that we worked together doing the kind of films that we did and how we did it; everything he was really good at, I was not good at.   And everything I was really good at, he was not good at. So, we were actually really a perfect team.

 

Do you ever think about how lucky you are?

 

GRACE:           Yeah.

 

PAUL: M-hm.

 

GRACE:           I think about it all the time.

 

PAUL: Oh, yeah.

 

GRACE:           Yeah.

 

PAUL: Definitely. Yeah. You know, I definitely feel that way, and then again, you know, as we all like to talk about a lot, it was meant to be. So, is it luck, or is there something guiding us?

 

GRACE:           Was this something that was meant to happen? Were we meant to meet, or was it just happenstance? I like to kind of think that we were somehow meant to meet, and that we created this life because it was meant to be together.

 

As of this conversation in December of 2016, Hawaii-based filmmakers Paul and Grace Atkins were gearing up to work with an environmental foundation called Global Mana to educate people about the effects of global climate change. Paul and Grace feel this is likely to be one of the most important stories of their careers. Mahalo to Paul and Grace Atkins of East Honolulu for sharing their story with us. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

PAUL: I hear so many couples say, We never argue. And I just think …

 

GRACE:           Ah.

 

How well do you know each other?

 

PAUL: Sorry, I do not believe that. [CHUCKLE] Or, you should.

 

Or you suffer in silence.

 

PAUL: Or you’re suffering in silence. What’s going on there, you know.

 

GRACE:           No, but I think also, too, however you communicate, if you communicate through love and quietness, or through more emotional, passionate and argumentative ways, each has their own purpose in how a relationship goes.

 

[END]

 



MOVEABLE FEAST WITH FINE COOKING
The Big Island, Hawai‘i

 

This series combines flavorful ingredients, top chefs and beautiful locations for the ultimate dining experience. In the third season of the Emmy-nominated series, Australian Chef Pete Evans goes coast-to-coast, and across the sea, traveling to Nashville, Louisville, Miami, San Antonio, Hawaii and other US locations to meet the best chefs in each area and cook a delicious meal that incorporates local and seasonal ingredients.

 

Big Island, Hawaii
“The Pied Piper of Hawaii Regional Cuisine,” Chef Peter Merriman takes Pete on a trip up the Kohala Mountains to the beautiful Kahua Ranch where they pick up Wagyu beef for the night’s feast. Meanwhile, local chef Jim Babian sources abalone straight from the tank at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii. Later, the chefs meet up at Merriman’s Restaurant to prepare wood-grilled abalone; pipikaula beef jerky poke; pan-seared kampachi with lilikoi brown butter sauce; and lamb curry with fresh ginger, turmeric, coconut and pineapple-mint garnish.

 

MOVEABLE FEAST WITH FINE COOKING
Maui, Hawai‘i

 

This series combines flavorful ingredients, top chefs and beautiful locations for the ultimate dining experience. In the third season of the Emmy-nominated series, Australian Chef Pete Evans goes coast-to-coast, and across the sea, traveling to Nashville, Louisville, Miami, San Antonio, Hawai‘i and other US locations to meet the best chefs in each area and cook a delicious meal that incorporates local and seasonal ingredients.

 

Maui, Hawai‘i
Pete explores, cooks and dines with two of the island’s excellent chefs, 2014 Maui Chef of the Year Isaac Bancaco, and founder of the mobile kitchen Maui Fresh Streatery Kyle Kawakami. The adventure starts with some off–shore fishing. Back on shore the team prepares a modern take on a traditional Maui feast at the spectacular Noho‘ana Farm known for its taro and poi.

 

GLOBE TREKKER
Tough Boats: The Arctic

GLOBE TREKKER - Tough Boats: The Arctic

 

Trekker Ian Wright travels to the high Arctic from the coast of northern Norway. His Arctic journey starts in fishing port of Tromso, more than 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. From here, aboard the fishing trawler Hermes, he travels another 300 miles north to rich fishing ground near remote Bear Island. Later, he transfers to a small Arctic cruise ship that takes just a dozen or so passengers around the islands in search of polar bears and other wildlife.

 

MOVEABLE FEAST WITH FINE COOKING
O‘ahu, Hawai‘i

 

This series combines flavorful ingredients, top chefs and beautiful locations for the ultimate dining experience. In the third season of the Emmy-nominated series, Australian Chef Pete Evans goes coast-to-coast, and across the sea, traveling to Nashville, Louisville, Miami, San Antonio, Hawaii and other US locations to meet the best chefs in each area and cook a delicious meal that incorporates local and seasonal ingredients.

 

Oahu, Hawaii
Chef Pete Evans joins award-winning Hawaiian chefs Jon Matsubara and Lee Anne Wong on Oahu to learn how local pineapple is harvested. They also meet local fish guru/mentor Brooks Takenaka at the Honolulu Fish Auction to bid and buy locally sourced fish for dinner. Chef Jon shows how to make his famous smoking mai tai cocktail, hibachi-style Kauai shrimp, and Kahaluu roast pork belly, while Lee Anne cooks up fresh opah and vegetable sides and Pete prepares ahi poke.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Nainoa Thompson

 

As a young boy growing up in ahupuaa o Niu, now known as Niu Valley, Nainoa Thompson would go to Maunalua Bay with a family friend, Yoshi Kawano. “And we would go fishing. And that’s where my love for the ocean started, through fishing,” Thompson remembers.

 

In this interview from August 2015, Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson discusses sailing the Polynesian voyaging canoe, Hokulea, on a voyage around the world to raise awareness about the importance of taking care of our earth and the ocean that he loves.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, June 14, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, June 18, at 4:00 pm.

 

Nainoa Thompson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know, we do things ‘cause we believe they’re right. We’ll take voyages or we’ll move forward because we believe that they’re necessary to be active. The worst thing in our time is ignorance, and it’s apathy, and it’s inaction. And especially now, ‘cause the world is changing so quick, you need to be in front of it, not behind. And so, you create an idea, you create a vision that is based on something like taking a canoe forty-seven thousand miles, going to twenty-eight countries, eighty-two ports around the only island we have called Earth in a way in which you hope in the journey that you can create awareness and better understandings and moving community towards being active. And so, inherently for the success of the mission of the Worldwide Voyage, it requires both a strong local community connected to a global community. Otherwise, you’re gonna fail your intention. I see myself as part of the responsibility to do certain pieces to make that happen.

 

Nainoa Thompson is a master navigator who has learned how to rely on nature and his instincts to guide the double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea across vast stretches of open ocean to faraway destinations. And he’s using wayfinding skills on land, navigating political and diplomatic terrain to reach with the Hokulea across the globe to raise awareness about the importance of taking care of our Earth. Nainoa Thompson, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Nainoa Thompson was the first Hawaiian in over six hundred years to sail a canoe between Hawai‘i and Tahiti without the use of modern navigational tools. He has the vision to see an island thousands of miles away, and the courage to leave the safety of land, because he feels the long voyages connecting people will make the world a better place. That’s come from a lifetime of training and community, starting here in the East Honolulu ahupuaa of Niu, also known as Niu Valley, where Thompson grew up. From this place, his sense of community has grown to encompass the world.

 

When does a child learn values, caring for the Earth, caring for your place, caring for ohana, caring for your family, caring for elders? When do you learn that? And for me, it was very young. And that was because my two greatest teachers were my mom and dad. Here is my primary school, in my mom and dad’s house. It sets the course for my life. And right down the road, right here was my grandfather’s dairy. I mean, I’m so old that there were no supermarkets, no Costco, no Foodland, no nothing. There was nothing in Niu Valley. It was a dairy farm and a chicken farm, and Kuliouou had a meat house. Hawaii Kai marina was the largest fishpond in the State of Hawaii, and Aina Haina had a few stores. And my grandfather made milk, and it would be delivered in glass bottles at night. And the guy that would deliver it, his name was Yoshi Kawano, and he was the man that taught me kindness, he was the man that taught me compassion. He lived in an old wooden house. My mom and dad, when they would leave us with someone, we would always be with the Kawanos, ‘cause they were the ones that they trusted the most. And you felt that, you know, as a child. You were taken care of, you were nurtured, you were safe, and you were clean. And so, in Yoshi’s house, everything was Japanese. And so, you bathed in the furo, and you ate Japanese food. You could smell it in the house. You ate on futons and everything was Japanese. But he was my greatest ocean teacher, my primary ocean teacher. When I was about five years old, he gave me a fishing pole. Too bad for him to do that, because he gave me this little bamboo fishing pole, and then he was the one who delivered the milk at ten-thirty at night, worked all night ‘til eight o’clock in the morning. And then I would be sitting on his old wooden doorsteps with the fishing pole. And then, he’d put me in the car every single time, and we’d drive what seemed very far to me to Maunalua Bay right out here, and we would go fishing. And that’s where my love for the ocean started, through fishing, ‘cause Maunalua was so full of life. And so, that was classroom, that was school, and Yoshi became my definition of community that was caring, that kept you safe. We were safe as children here, and we could be left here on the land or with the community. It was a beautiful time. And Yoshi, in his house, everything was Japanese, and it was fully respected. He’s Nisei, so he was born in Hawaii. But everything outside of his house, once you stepped out the door, was Hawaiian. And so, this whole valley here, or this ridge Kulepeamoa, this is where he taught me about the spirits and the blue light. He talked about the Menehune when Kalanianaole was a coral road. And that that beautiful blending and mixing of who he was, of Japanese ancestry, but on a place that’s Hawaiian, and honoring both sides. It was hugely impactful on how I look at our amazingly beautiful mixing of many cultures around the world that created a fabric of a culture that is more based not on race, but it’s based on values. And that makes Hawaii powerful. Not just a nice place to be, but it makes it powerful.

 

In addition to Yoshi Kawano, the teachers whom Nainoa Thompson most often recognizes are Mao Piailug, one of the last traditional navigators from Micronesia; Nainoa’s father, Pinky Thompson; Lacy Veach, an astronaut from Hawaii; and Eddie Aikau. Eddie was an outstanding waterman and crew member on Hokulea, and was lost at sea when he went for help on his surfboard after the canoe capsized in 1978. When that happened, the dream of a Hawaiian navigating a canoe voyage to Tahiti could have ended.

 

My dad was saying that, you know, you guys, your community, you need to find Tahiti. Not for you, but for your people. And he was so forceful. You need to get up, get off your knees; you’re on your knees and you can’t see, you need to get up, and you need to find Tahiti. But with me, he said—interesting, you know. He pulled us all together, our leadership. After the loss of Eddie, we couldn’t even talk to each other. We were just so … overwhelmed with grief and anger, and rage, and denial. All that kind stuff. And blaming; yeah? And that’s the worst. And so, it was all of that, and so we couldn’t even talk to each other. Leadership was was pau, it was finished. But my father and guys like Abraham Piianaia, they said, Absolutely not. I mean, these guys have been through the war; right? They know what it takes to stand up and fight for your beliefs. And they knew it was a pivotal time. But dad was interesting. He gets us all together, he pulls us all together, he creates the idea of finding Tahiti. We all come together around the idea in one room at the Biomedical Building and so, we were together. Then we’re walking in the parking lot after the meeting, and we’re all solid and the vision’s clear, we’re gonna go. We’re gonna work hard, we’re gonna take years to do this, do it right, not wrong, but almost in an angry voice. In the parking lot, the light was so bright, ‘cause we were in a dark room the whole time. And he goes, Okay, Nainoa, you want to navigate? Who’s your teacher? ‘Cause Mau went home; yeah?

 

And he said, You won’t look for me, and you won’t even find me.

 

Yeah; and he was not gonna come back. Yeah. So, he was just so … frankly, disgusted with Hawaii. Because Hawaii was just not together. It wasn’t pono, and it was in conflict all the time. In the world he comes from, that is completely unacceptable. You know, anyway, make a long story short, Mau came back.

 

After Mau Piailug returned to Hawaii, Nainoa Thompson trained with him for the next two years, learning the paths of the stars and the movements of the winds and seas, and sailed to Tahiti. Over the next two decades, Nainoa would take the canoe over enormous expanses of ocean. Throughout the Pacific, he became regarded as a wayfinder on land, as well as at sea. In the year 2000, he was appointed by the Hawaii Probate Court to serve as a Bishop Estate trustee. This, after a scandal over gross mismanagement that had placed the future of Kamehameha Schools in jeopardy. Do you know how he found his way in these uncharted waters? This is his story.

 

You know, I never applied for the leadership job. I mean, actually, I don’t even know how it happened. But the agreement to become a trustee was really about service. It was really about if you’re gonna be asked, certainly, it’s honor and privilege to be a part of that amazing institution. And it is. It’s just so extraordinary. But it was a rough time. I remember it was the first month of being a trustee, and you walk in the door with four of your colleagues that you don’t even know. I mean, we come from very different worlds. Why they picked me, I have no idea. But I’m not in the business field, I’m not an attorney, I’m not in real estate development. I’m a fisherman. So, in the back of my mind, two things. The primary thing, you need to rebuild trust in trustees, ‘cause it was gone. It was evaporated. Nobody trusted the trustees. And the only way that you’re gonna do that is to have that community of five trustees come together. And if we fail to come together, we should quit and have the courage to do it. So, make a long story short. In the first month, I don’t know, I remember … it’s like where our office is, you walk around and go through this small little kitchen into the boardroom. And that boardroom has so much mana. And it’s like a brass golden doorknob, and I reach for the doorknob. I grabbed it, and then I pulled my hand away, ‘cause I was like afraid to go in the room, like I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know how to lead this. I didn’t know how to command. And then, I took a really deep breath, and I opened the door and walked into the room filled with people. They don’t trust you. And then, working with a group that you don’t know. It was a rough time. And then to really be able to collect and glue back the pieces of a broken trust, it was a rough time. And I didn’t feel I was adequate, I didn’t feel like I had the tools, I didn’t have the background. But you were asked; right? You were asked to do this. And so, I remember my response to that was, I got my assistant, Stella Kutaka, a beautiful lady, to help me. And I got pictures of all my great leaders, all of my great teachers, those who I would define as leaders that navigated. So, you had Yoshi on the wall, you had my father on the wall, you had Lacy on the wall, you had Eddie on the wall, you had Kala Kukea on the wall, you had Herb Kane. There was like sixty-something pictures, and I put ‘em around the whole room. And so, when I would be in a decision that was profound to a whole institution that’s on the governance side, it’s my job to set course for the institution, and I didn’t know how to answer it, and I’m getting pressured for the wrong reasons, and you feel it, I would stop the meeting. And I would go inside the room, turn on the light, and I would sit with my teachers. My leaders that have set the course for me for my whole life, and I needed them, ‘cause the vast majority of them are gone. And so, in the pictures were their story, their work, their values, and their relationship. So again, that is that community around the whole room.

 

And are you saying that after spending time with the photos that you were able to find a course?

 

Well, sometimes, the course, but the ability to be able to say, You gotta get up, you gotta go in that room, and you gotta make a decision. If you’re not completely clear too bad; you’re a trustee, and you need to decide. You can’t go absent. And so, I needed their counsel and their guidance, and so, I would remember their stories. You know, what would Mau do? What would Eddie do? What would my dad do? My dad was a trustee for twenty-one years. What would he do? And so, that was the smartest thing I ever did, was to get all my teachers and my leaders in the room with me, and I could sit with them in counsel by myself. Then, go back inside and deal with the rough decisions that you’re never, ever feeling that it’s one hundred percent the correct thing to do, ‘cause it’s complex decisions, and then working on. I always say this with a lot of humility, but huge respect for my colleagues. That was an amazing group of trustees. Diane Plotts was a land developer that built all these big hotels with Chris Hemmeter, which is not my thing that I would ever do. I thought, We are gonna have a rough time coming to find a place of common ground. But Diane in the end, she was really almost the spiritual grounding of the board, because she had such solid values that she went back to. And so, I’d go pester her and ask her, you know, Where do you come up with these decisions? It always went back to her growing up on a farm.

 

And having a center.

 

Where are values taught? Where do you learn them? How? When? Who? So, Diane in the end was really my guidance at the level on which, you know, she would look at me in the boardroom and say, Nainoa, vote. Vote. But no matter what position I ever took, even though it was contrary to her, she respected it. I love that lady.

 

And no Hawaiian blood in her at all.

 

No Hawaiian blood. But she is of the culture of values, she is one of the navigators. If there was some way to accurately measure Kamehameha’s influence on what’s happened in the last four years, it would be profound. Look around in the professional fields at how many are graduates. And the interesting thing about Kamehameha is that the graduates come home. You know, there’s a sense of place, there’s a sense of kuleana, and they’re making a huge difference. And if you think the last forty years was amazing; wait ‘til the next forty. I mean, they’re just everywhere. On our voyaging canoes, out of the twelve navigators that we have, eight are Kamehameha Schools graduates. The new ones, the young ones, the best ones. And so, I mean, their influence on voyaging is huge.

 

Nainoa Thompson says that as new generations of voyagers have been raised up over the years, so has their desire to undertake new challenges and achieve new goals.

 

Lacy Veach back in 1992, he and my dad, right down the road, he was telling my dad, and my dad was agreeing; We should take Hokulea around the world, the world needs to see Hokulea, Hokulea needs to learn about the Earth, we need to protect it. This was Lacy. And my dad was raising the question; Are we at the point where the Hawaiian community is ready to engage the rest of the Earth as a vibrant, strong, powerful culture and build relationships around the right kinds of values? That’s in 1992. We lose both of our great navigators; my father and Lacy. But it wasn’t until 2007 when we were … not me, it was Chad Paishon and Chad Baybayan were sitting exhausted on the Fukuoka dock in Japan when we sailed to Micronesia, to Mau’s island to honor him, then we went up to Japan to honor Yoshi and the many Yoshi’s that had voyaged to Hawaii. It’s two o’clock in the morning. These two poor navigators are exhausted, and they’re saying, Man, there’s gonna be two thousand people down here tomorrow morning at dawn, and they’re gonna want to touch Hokulea. So, you’re in a country that doesn’t know Hokulea, you’re in a country that speaks a different language, with a different history. They’re oceanic people, they’re amazing ocean people, but they don’t know this canoe. And yet, why would two thousand people be there? And they’re gonna be there. And then, they said, Why don’t we go around the world. And so, we voted on April 1, 2008 to do this. But there were a whole bunch of issues. Could you keep it safe, could you get enough crewmembers to do this, could you raise the funding? Could you build the community? And so, that was when we reached out to stuff like organizations that were just designed for this. And that was the East West Center. I mean, they’re designed for this, to help us create the ability to sail the voyage. ‘Cause we needed to earn the voyage; right? We needed to make sure that all these issues, safety and leadership, and crew strength that as borne from the idea, but we had to be responsible for the idea.

 

There are so many moving parts, like even fundraising and strategic planning.

 

Hokulea took eighteen months of dry dock. We made the promise that the canoe needed to be better than ever, that it can go around the world. We’re gonna take all rot and all damage off the canoe. Right now, the only thing left on Hokulea that’s from 1976 is one inch of the hulls, that go around the hulls. And everything else, by that decision, had to be changed. But the thing about community, we had twelve hundred volunteers that put in thirty-two thousand volunteer man hours. If we didn’t have that pool, we could never get Hokulea ready to go. But fundamentally, these are twelve hundred people who don’t know each other, that come together around an idea, and to get Hokulea ready. I mean, enormous; enormous human effort. You don’t lead that. You know what leads it? It’s the idea.

 

But the idea has to be shaped and nourished, and grown. At what point do you come in and feed it?

 

I come in, in the beginning. You know, I’m there to be responsible for the nurturing of the idea, and to measure it. And I guess my biggest leadership decision is whether we did earn the right to go. And during the voyage, I have the very difficult situation about saying whether it’s still worth it. Are you gonna call it off? Are you gonna ship Hokulea home? Are you gonna fail the mission? That would be my responsibility. And so, I do have to make that final call. But what I’ve learned over the years, and it’s through those great teachers, is that fear is best friend. You know, it’s the one that reminds you that you’re not ready. It’s the one that keeps you honest and tells you that the things you didn’t take care of. And fear, I find it in a number of ways, but I find it in my dreams. And I will wake up and just have these horrendous dreams of irresponsibility, not following through, danger, risk, the things that are really bothering me, they come to me. ‘Cause what you do is, your day is so busy and it’s so complicated that you can push this all behind you. But when you’re sleeping, you can’t do that. But then, I also find it in exhaustion. I get sick sometimes, I get more colds, I start to create that old kinda childhood excuses for not having to take responsibility. It never goes away. It’s still there. But what the voyaging has helped me do, which has been huge, it’s like there’s this door of fear that it’s like the Kamehameha Schools door, it’s like that golden handle that you don’t want to open. ‘Cause if you open it, you gotta be honest about all your inadequacies, all the things that make you less than perfect. But what I’ve learned through the voyaging—that’s why I love cloudy days. I love getting lost now. And I love taking my students. I hope they get like the worst doldrums, ever.

 

 

 

Because it’s in the blackness, it’s in the cloudiness, it’s in the times that aren’t easy, that you grow, that you become the best. And what I’ve learned, and primarily from—my primary teacher is Eddie. Eddie said, Open the door.

 

When Hokulea was rebuilt, the original deck was salvaged and remade into this table that sits on the lanai of Nainoa Thompson’s parents’ house in Niu Valley in East Honolulu. In May 2014, Hokulea left for Tahiti, the first stop outside Hawaii on the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage, a journey dedicated to increasing awareness for the importance of taking care of our island Earth. Everywhere Hokulea travels, the canoe is joining with global communities to bridge traditional and new technologies to share the message of living sustainably.

 

The oceans matter. So, the Worldwide Voyage says that the greatest environmental challenge of our time is protecting the world’s oceans, because the oceans protect the world’s life. I mean, the next four breaths you take, three come from the ocean. Don’t mess with plankton. And so, when we look at the oceans and we look at the state they’re in, we need to be very concerned, because that’s gonna be the measurable defined environmental issue about what’s gonna happen to our next two generations. So, if that’s our story, if that’s our idea, then you make the connection with places that don’t know the canoe, but they connect to your values. So, when we look at sustainability, we talk about stuff that’s not really the solution. But when you think about what the Hawaiians did in this land, with their system of tenure, their sets of values, how they developed things like the ahupuaa system and how they learned how to manage resources on the islands, it’s so critical today, ‘cause embedded in that two thousand years was an enormous amount of very hard learning that took place to be able to find some sense of balance. And in the balance is where we find hope. And so, you have all these things emerging. You have leadership emerging, you have highly educated Native Hawaiians that are coming into the workforce, coming into professionalism, namely go into medicine, go into the doctorates programs, go into economics, go into education. It’s growing. What’s gonna happen in the next twenty years, there’s gonna be this merger between that history, that culture of living well on these islands, and with the professionalism which is required to make the adaptation for the way that we lived before, we’ll figure out a way for the second half of this 21st century. I think it’s vital. And you know, of course, it’s hard.

 

Since he attained the rare distinction of master navigator, Nainoa Thompson’s courage to open the door and walk through has been inspiring communities not just in Hawaii, but around the world, to achieve their dreams. Mahalo to Nainoa Thompson of Ahupuaa O Niu, for your community building on a vast scale, and for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I don’t know about that. But the ones I listen to the most today are my two little children. When I add up the signs and what we know about traditional knowledge and indigenous knowledge about what’s going on, when I know that my two little children understand the Worldwide Voyage and the values and the beliefs in the context of their six-year-old world, when I know that they allow their father to go ‘cause they know that he believes it’s the right thing to do, but at the same time that this voyage is for them. At the same time, I don’t have to have their picture on the wall, because I can see them on a daily basis. I can touch them and feel them. So, it’s that beautiful world that I live in that has this legacy and this journey, and this history of extraordinary leaders that are defining your ultimate permission. And then at the same time, you can be at home and see your children, and making sure that they are believing with you too. And so, I’m not a leader, but I’m in an amazing place, and been on a lifelong journey of extraordinary leaders, and that’s that.

 

[END]



LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Florence “Johnny” Frisbie: Islander at Heart

 

Florence “Johnny” Frisbie’s sense of curiosity and adventure took her far beyond her Pacific island home in Pukapuka, in the Cook Islands. She traveled to Hawai‘i, Japan and eventually New Zealand, where she raised her family. She eventually followed her desire to return home to Pukapuka, an island now gravely threatened by climate change and the rapid loss of its ancient culture and language.

 

To view the first part of guest Florence “Johnny” Frisbie’s show, click here.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, May 31, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, June 4, at 4:00 pm.

 

Florence “Johnny” Frisbie: : Islander at Heart Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Did you often feel a tug, a struggle between your Polynesian side and your European Western side?

 

Even though my brain, my thinking brain has been developed to be able to absorb the European, the Western world, but I go by my heart. My heart speaks, yeah, not my brain. My heart tells me.

 

Johnny Frisbie has lived a storied life as a writer, television personality, and nurturer across cultures throughout the South Pacific, New Zealand, Hawai‘i, and Japan. She grew up in a tiny place called Pukapuka. Florence “Johnny” Frisbie, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Florence “Johnny” Frisbie of Honolulu was born to a native Pukapukan mother and an American father in Tahiti. Her family moved from island to island frequently in the South Pacific. As a teenager, Johnny wrote and published Miss Ulysses from Pukapuka, an autobiography of her journeys across the South Pacific. Pukapuka is an atoll in the Cook Islands. After the death of her father, Johnny, aged sixteen, and three siblings were orphaned, separated, and raised in different families in New Zealand and Hawai‘i. Johnny was taken in by the Engle family of Kailua, Windward Oahu, and enrolled in high school. She hadn’t had much formal education.

 

Your life took you to … you went to Roosevelt High School.

 

M-hm.

 

Where you did so well that you—

 

M-hm.

 

Did you get a scholarship to Punahou?

 

Yes, uh-huh. Yeah, I got a scholarship to Punahou. Yes; yeah.

 

Which is amazing to do so well academically.

 

I know; it surprised me. Yeah. But then, I was thinking about it. I was very, very serious about each subject, say biology, English. I was serious, I was keen, and after each class, I would go to the teacher to please explain what I didn’t understand. You know, because it’s transforming a thinking in Polynesian to English understanding of the subject.

 

And different tools, everything was different.

 

Yeah. So, I would always go, and the teachers were always so good, so good, and they would explain to me. And so, go home, and then I was able to do my homework.

 

Your outdoor childhood, and all the curiosity and exploration, and resilience; how did that translate when you then started living more suburban lifestyle, you know, in more crowded places?

 

M-hm. Well, I don’t know that I have actually been in that kind of a lifestyle very much. But in order for me to survive and not totally give up who I am, my nature, you know, I found ways. I found ways to go maybe in a bush or to have plants that I can talk to or nurture, and never to be in concrete blocks like that. But I find it’s a survival instinct, and I’ve been very careful not to lose me, who I am.

 

Johnny Frisbie adapted quickly to life in Hawai‘i and the Western style of education. After graduating from Punahou School, Johnny set her sights on a career in nursing. However, an old family friend set her on a new journey.

 

I was accepted to Queen’s. I applied and I was going to start, and then James Michener, who was kinda looking after me at the time said, No, you’re going to go overseas, you need to expand your vision of the world. He said, You’re going to go either to the Far East, he said, or Europe. And he said, I’ll get you a job. So, immediately, I received a letter from the Army that I had a job in Tokyo. So, get ready, two weeks later, was off to Japan.

 

What did you do in Tokyo?

 

I worked for the Army, secretary to one of the … yeah. But … why did we go there?

 

Well, actually, I’m picturing you in Tokyo after a lifetime living on Pacific islands, and it doesn’t compute. Did you enjoy that?

 

Loved it. And there weren’t many Polynesians, and the Japanese were fascinated. You know, they just used to stare. You know, stare. And those who could speak to me said, Where you from? You know. And I would explain, but they didn’t know. You know, a lot of them didn’t know. Made lots of good friends. They’re wonderful people.

 

But only stayed two years?

 

Two years; yeah, m-hm. That was the contract; yeah.

 

And what was next?

 

Oh, and then, I came back to Hawaii, and my sister introduced me to Carl, who was in the Navy, was getting ready to go to Japan to film the club, the military nightclubs for his television program. And so, my sister said, Oh, my sister just come back from Japan, I’ll have you meet her and find out things. Well, there you go. So, that’s how it happened.

 

The man to whom Johnny Frisbie was introduced turned out to be Carl Hebenstreit, also known as Kini Popo, a popular Honolulu radio DJ, and the first on-air personality for KGMB-TV’s inaugural 1952 broadcast.

 

You married a man who was very well-known in Hawai‘i.

 

M-hm.

 

Kini Popo is what everyone called him. Carl Hebenstreit, a radio and TV personality.

 

M-hm.

 

And I think you mentioned that you could talk to him about writing the way you could your dad.

 

Oh, yes; absolutely. Yeah. I mean, he had an amazing command of the English language. And so, he was very helpful with my second book. M-hm, my second book, when I was still learning the English language, still reading and studying, you know, grammar and all that. But he also was a beautiful person.

 

And with him, you had four children.

 

Yes.

 

In New Zealand.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Yet another part of—

 

They grew up in New Zealand. Yeah; two were born here. Ropati and Carla were born here, and Haumea was born in the Cook Islands, and Stirling was born in New Zealand. Yes.

 

And then, you stayed for a bit.

 

I stayed on.

 

Years.

 

When Carl returned to Hawaii, I stayed on. Three years, I was there. When the last of my kids left, then I decided, Oh, well, time to move on.

 

And you were still close to him, even though you were no longer married.

 

Oh, we’re very close now. Yes, he and Haumea meet at least once a week, and I’m invited. If I’m not invited, I invite myself. No problem. And I love his wife, Christine. Yeah; beautiful, beautiful friend.

 

In 1948, Johnny Frisbie became the first Polynesian female published author with her autobiographical book, Miss Ulysses from Pukapuka. And while living in Hawai‘i during the 1950s, she was one of the first to turn heads and raise a few eyebrows with her choice of swimwear.

 

There was a time on Waikiki Beach when no one wore bikinis. And then, you came along. You’re credited with being the first.

 

Yeah. Yeah, there was a Tahitian girl, too, who wore the bikini, and gave me courage. Yeah, gave me courage. But the thing that I can claim fame for was that I wore a bathing suit when I was six months pregnant and onwards. Okay; that was in 1957, and it was unheard of. You know, it was unheard of. I was very proud of that.

 

And how did you come to be, I guess, one of the first two women to wear a bikini? How did that happen?

 

Well, I didn’t think it was an issue. You know, it was just natural. You know, we grew up half-naked and naked; you’d go swimming naked, the girls and the boys over there. The girls there, we quickly take off our dress. We didn’t have panties or bra. Take off and put it on the bush, and run down, you know, into lagoon. And I mean, it’s no big deal. So, I just grew up not thinking about shame or rules, or restrictions. To this day, I have to be very careful I don’t upset people because of my quickness to do what’s natural.

 

After the birth of her second child, Johnny Frisbie planted roots in New Zealand. She says there were a number of Pukapukans living there, and she wanted her children to experience their cultural heritage. In 1976, Johnny made her debut as a television personality and had a chance to share her perspectives on life with New Zealand viewers.

 

Television began in the city where we lived, Dunedin, which is south, on the south island of New Zealand. An Australian producer was there, and he’d come from Australia, and he had worked on a program called Beauty and the Beast in Australia. And he wanted to start one for New Zealand viewers. And so, he asked me; he wanted someone other than all European. There were four panelists. So, he asked me if I would, and I said, yes, sure. You know. So, the program was about a male presenter and two women on the side. And he would a letter from viewers from all over, from solo mothers, grandmothers, you know, teenagers needing answer, needing help. And so, he would read the letter, and would turn and say, Johnny, what do you think of that? You know, we were not to give our advice, to give advice, but to give our opinion. But my viewpoint was very different to the other three, so it always very different to every letter. There was never one that just.

 

For example; can you give an example?

 

A solo mother who is alone with her baby, and wanted to know what to do with the baby. She can’t cope, they had very little money, and the father is just ignoring her. What do you do? And so, my reply was, Do you have family? You know, can you go to your mother or father, or auntie, or distant relative? You know, this is kind of the village clan type reply. I said, you know, have courage; even though they might not be happy with you for having this baby without the father, you know, just seek their help, find out, you know, and make amends. Yeah.

 

What did the others say?

 

They said, Oh, well, you did what you did, you’re paying for it. Kind of that kind of thing.

 

Thanks for the advice or the opinion. That went on for quite—you did that …

 

Ten years; ten years.

 

Ten years.

 

Five days a week. Yeah.

 

And did you have fans writing you about how they really liked your advice?

 

Yeah; the Polynesian Pacific island community were very, very grateful. They were very proud of the fact that they had someone on television, you know, and speaking on all our behalf. Yeah.

 

Were you controversial, too?

 

A little bit, yeah.

 

And you don’t mind. Not at all, right?

 

Well, it’s the truth as I understand it. And also fairness, you know. You know, I mean, we all think differently. You know, different cultures, the thoughts and feelings are all different. And I’m not about to cow down to what is supposed to be the correct way to think and feel, and all that, you know

 

And then, there was Pacifica. What’s that?

 

Pacifica is an organization that uh, Patty Walker, a very dear friend, and four other women and I started. Patty and I were on the New Zealand Maori and South Pacific Arts Council, and while at one of the meetings, we thought, Why don’t we create a Pacific Island women’s organization to help the women who are lost, and those who would like to be a nurse but don’t know where to go and how to get it moving, and get Pacific Island children, kids, students who are doing well at school to further their education, get a scholarship for them, or guide them. But, yeah, it helped. It was such a successful program for Pacific Island, especially the women, you know, stand tall, you know, have confidence, you know, go back to school. You know, I mean, they come from the small islands, eighth grade, and then that’s it. And so many of them enter college now, and it’s moved on. Professors and doctors, nurses. Yeah.
In 2015, Johnny Frisbie returned to her home atoll of Pukapuka in the Cook Islands after being away for over fifty years. She was reunited with her eldest brother, Charley Frisbie, given away at birth to his grandaunt, and he’d become the oldest living Pukapukan.

 

After many, many years away, you went back to Pukapuka to see your brother.

 

M-hm. Yeah; and to film a documentary called Homecoming. And we flew from Honolulu. The producer director of the film, Gemma, we flew to New Zealand, and then to Rarotonga, and we waited there for a boat to sail to Pukapuka. And it doesn’t happen often. And we were lucky, because during that month of July, the Cook Islands was celebrating its fiftieth internal self-government from New Zealand. So, they are no longer a protectorate of New Zealand. So, all the island people from the different islands congregated on Rarotonga to celebrate this great event. Lots of beautiful music, drumming, singing, dancing; the whole thing was just mindboggling. And so, we asked to board the boat that was to take the Pukapukans back to Pukapuka. And they said, Yeah, come onboard. So, we did. Five days sailing, and every night, every day, there’s music and drumming. The Pukapukans would just, you know, stay up all night waiting to get home, playing the ‘ukulele on both sides of the deck, you know, singing. It was beautiful.

 

Five days of that?

 

Yes; five days, five days of that.

 

That is a very difficult atoll to get to.

 

Yeah, it is; yeah.

 

No regularly scheduled boat or air …

 

No, no.

 

We had to charter a plane, eight-seater. We had to, or we would be stuck there for goodness knows how long. That way, we were assured of getting back to Rarotonga.

 

What was it like after that great sailing prelude? What was it like going back?

 

Well, it was so amazing. I fell into it as if I’d never left. Just totally, totally into it. You know, and just walking on the reef, just on the beach collecting shells, and talking. You know, the language came back very quickly. And grating coconut, peeling taro, and scaling fish, and gutting fish. You know, just cooking it the way we used to in the old days. And it was just unbelievable. I just fell into it, and it made me wonder, gosh, have I been longing, homesick all these years, and I just kind of buried it somewhere? You know.

 

Did you want to stay?

 

No, I didn’t because I wanted to be with my family, with my kids, my grandchildren. In that sense, yeah, that’s utmost to me.

 

But you could go home again.

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

It was all the good that you remember.

 

Oh, yes. And church, you know, attending the church service with that beautiful singing. It’s like chanting, you know.

 

Oh, the harmony. I sat on the benches in the village where my mother comes from. I sat almost where she used to sit.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah; makes you wonder why I ever left.

 

After living in New Zealand for thirty years, Johnny Frisbie returned to Hawai‘i to live with her daughter, Haumea Ho, widow of the late Hawai‘i entertainment icon, Don Ho.

 

Seems like you’ve lived a larger-than-life life. Because I mean, for example, your daughter is Haumea, she was married to Don Ho.

 

That’s right. Yeah.

 

I mean, that’s a different kind of culture. You know, the show business culture.

 

Yeah, yes, yes. Yeah; that’s why I came to Hawai‘i. She asked me to come and be with her when Don passed away. And it was very wonderful; wonderful, wonderful to be with her. And also, my sister was married to Adam West, Batman.

 

Batman.

 

Mm; yes.

 

You were a performer. I mean, you danced, you sang.

 

Mm. Yeah.

 

So, that was just part of life.

 

Yeah; m-hm, m-hm. Yeah. It wasn’t a career.

 

You continue to write. And I think when you write, you know, it makes you think maybe better. I mean, just because you’re involved in the exercise of putting things down that have to be true and authentic.

 

M-hm.

 

What insights have you come to over your life as you look back?

 

I’ve been very lucky. Delved a lot in philosophy, and so, I want to make things honest, and develop that aspect of my soul, my nature. And I’m very, very much into writing about my philosophy about anything and everything that comes to mind. And I’m discovering that I haven’t really committed fully to what the majority of people think about some things, and how they do it.

 

When people remember you in years to come, how do you want them to remember you; as nurturer?

 

Well, that’s just me. I mean, I have no profession. I think what they see, what they’ve gotten out from me, if any, that’s probably, and I have no label to say, you know. It’s what they got from me, good or bad. I don’t know. Yeah; hopefully, some good things. Yeah.

 

You mentioned your birthdate, and it means that as we speak now in 2017, you’re approaching eighty-five?

 

M-hm.

 

I don’t know what eighty-five looks like anymore, because a people are so healthy longer. But you don’t seem like you’re anywhere near eighty-five. I’m sure you’ve been told that before.

 

I’ll tell you a story. About a week and a half ago, I flew to California to see a friend. And his daughter, I’ve never met before, came to the airport to meet me. And I was waiting, and she was looking around for me, looking around for me. And finally, she called me and she said, Johnny, you know, where are you? I said, I’m here. And she said, Okay, I’m gonna put my hand up, when you see me, you know, come forward. And so, I did. And she came over to me and she said, I expected a gray-haired woman, lots of wrinkles! And she was yelling. You don’t have any wrinkles!

 

How old do you feel?

 

I feel young. You know, I’m exhilarated by things, excited about things. And I feel love, I feel love all the time. But physically, as of last year when I was gardening at my son’s place in Punalu‘u, I felt the physical change, you know. I’m crouching and weeding, and I can’t quickly stand up, you know. I had to kinda—ooh, you know. You know, help myself stand up like that, and I thought, mm, now this is not good. But you know, accept it.

 

And that was only last year.

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah; last year.

 

You know, people at age thirty are saying, My knee, it’s killing me.

 

At the time of this conversation in March of 2017, Florence “Johnny” Frisbie was about to embark on yet another journey; a multi-week trip across the Pacific. Even in her mid-80s, it seems the odyssey of Miss Ulysses from Pukapuka is not over yet. Mahalo to author Florence “Johnny” Frisbie of Honolulu for sharing your story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Have you ever regretted saying too much?

 

Saying too much; no. No.

 

Have you ever regretted saying too little?

 

Mmm, no. No.

 

Do you not have many regrets?

 

That would be, I mean, that would be the best place to be in life, no regrets.

 

Yeah, there’s a couple of things, but not much, no.

 

[END]

 

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