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GOOD WORK
Masters of the Building Arts

GOOD WORK: Masters of the Building Arts

 

Celebrate American craftsmanship and the unsung artisans – stone carvers, stained glass artisans, metalsmiths, plasterers, stone masons, decorative painters and adobe workers – who create and preserve iconic buildings.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jim Leahey

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Jim Leahey

 

As the most recognized sports voice in Hawai‘i, Jim Leahey did more than call plays; he was a masterful storyteller who informed as well as entertained. After lending his voice to thousands University of Hawai‘i and other athletics games, and a career of more than 60 years, he retired from sportscasting in June of 2018.

 
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This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Feb. 3, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

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People that come up to me and said: You know, I’m gonna do my first game.  I said: Well, you have to know the players, you have to study the statistics, you have to know the trends that are going to happen.  You have to study the language, you have to read, read, read.  And you don’t have to read sports all the time; you read other words that you can compare and contrast for the theater of the mind, the people that listen, the people that you’re providing the picture for.

 

Jim Leahey is an iconic name in the world of Hawai‘i sports broadcasting. For thousands of games, his voice brought University of Hawai‘i athletics into our living rooms.  And he’s one-third of a local sports dynasty; his father was legendary sportscaster Chuck Leahey, and the ball is now in the hands of Jim’s son Kanoa.  Jim Leahey, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  James Charles Leahey, sometimes called Kimo, but better known as Jim, retired in June 2018 from a career that spanned more than sixty years in sports broadcasting. He started out teaching school, which he calls his first love.  After he changed careers, he became the most recognized sports voice in Hawai‘i, announcing games and hosting sports talk shows on radio and television for decades. His first radio announcing job came unexpectedly in his teens, when his sportscaster father, Chuck Leahey, fell ill. Chuck Leahey had gotten his start in Hawai‘i as a U.S. Navy reporter during World War II.

 

He was at the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He was on the destroyer tender Dobbin, seven hundred yards from the Arizona when it blew up.  For one month, his job was to pick up dead bodies and body parts. Okay?  And that really affected him.  He was also at Midway, he was also at Tarawa, he was at Iwo Jima, but he never talked about them.  So, later on, I said: Dad, they’re having the anniversary for Pearl Harbor, and all of these people, you know, they wear the hats, survivor.  How come you never joined that?  He says: Let me tell you something.  And he looks … Let me tell you something.  That was the greatest defeat in the history of the United States Navy; it has affected me greatly.  I’m not going out wearing a celebratory hat.  And so, that’s the kind of person he was.  I mean, he really loved his children, he really loved his family, but he knew as a chief petty officer, a journalist chief petty officer in the Navy, which he stayed in after World War II, and he married my mother a month after the attack, he needed something else.  So, he went into play-by-play; he went into radio.  He refereed basketball games.  He did that kind of thing.  And because of that, he would have to take us along, because he had these kids.  He had to take me along.

 

How many kids?

 

Well, he had a total of five.  One is deceased now.  My brother Robby was blown up in that ammunition firecracker incident.

 

In Waikele.

 

In Waikele; yeah.

 

I’m sorry.

 

So, the thing was that we sat there, and we absorbed, we absorbed, we absorbed.  And we were all sportscasters.  I mean, we were all sportscasters.  And even when my brother lived in Mililani, had a little pool, we used to play games, and we used to announce the games.  And you had to come up there as a new guy with a new bat, and a new way of doing things, and describe what was going on.  So, he was able to make a living at it, and he was able to, you know, push it out.  And then, he went into Armed Forces Radio in Los Angeles, and we went with him, then we came back.  And the first time that I had done it, or I did it, was a boxing tournament in Schofield Barracks at Conroy Bowl.  He had pleurisy; he said I can’t do it.  Pleurisy, liquid in the lungs.  And he—This is your pass to get in.

 

How old were you?

 

I was fifteen.  I was a sophomore at St. Louis.  Okay?  So, he says: This is your ticket to get in, this is your ticket to get into the arena. This is the equipment; you plug in this, there’ll be a radio thing down there, you plug in that, and then you’ll hear the engineer, and then you talk to him again.  I did it.  I went, I got in, I went there.  And you know, it sounded fifteen-ish.  You know, it was like: There’s a hard right to the body, there’s a hit to the head, the referee.  Oh, he may be down.  You know, yeah.

 

But you were accurate the whole way?

 

I was pretty accurate.  You know, I was pretty accurate.  I could tell who won.

And uh, then, you know.

 

Fifteen; you went there on your own without a buddy or—

 

Nope; just me.

 

–chaperone, or anything?

 

Just me.

 

Wow.

 

So, that started it off.

 

But that’s live.  You sink or swim in live.

 

Live.

 

Yeah; no retakes.

 

No.  Yeah; that’s right.  And people that come up to me and said: You know, I’m gonna do my first game.  I said: Well, you have to know the players, you have to study the statistics, you have to know the trends that are going to happen.  You have to study the language, you have to read, read, read.  And you don’t have to read sports all the time; you read other words that you can compare and contrast for the theater of the mind, the people that listen, the people that you’re providing the picture for.  So, I said: That’s what you have to do.  And usually, they get right through the opening, the lineups, everything is good.  Tipoff; now, all of that is gone.  All of that research is gone, and it’s your mind and your talent.  And I’ve always believed in three things.  One is, always be yourself.  Always be yourself.  You’ve been given this talent.  Don’t imitate anybody else.  Two, never tell a lie.  Never tell a lie when you’re in play-by-play.  And three—and you’ll get this; never, ever trust broadcast management.

 

Never trust them.

 

Never trust myself; no.

 

Never trust them; yes.

 

No, no; of course not.

 

And it’s not their fault; it’s not their fault. They look at the broadcast, they look at games in a different way.  How many people will listen, how many sponsors will we get, how much do we have to pay the announcer, how much do we have to, you know, pay for the rights, and all kinds of stuff.  So, theirs is different.

 

Different parameters.

 

Yeah; yeah.  But don’t trust ‘em.  Don’t come buddy-buddy with ‘em.  No.

 

Okay; you say that.  But when you’re asked who are the people who’ve influenced you most, two of them are from broadcast management: Bob Sevey and Rick Blangiardi.

 

Absolutely; absolutely.  Bob Sevey; let me tell you the story of Bob Sevey.  Bob Sevey was my idol, Bob Sevey was my mentor, Bob Sevey was—well, you worked for him too.

 

And you did trust him, apparently.  He was the news director.

 

Well, he was the news director, but he also had to present the news every day.  And he had to say things like: I want three sources on this story before we put it on the air; I’m not gonna go with this, I want three sources.  So, he had the best crew in Hawai‘i, and you were one of them, that supplied that for him.  For me, he says: Don’t say U-nited Airlines, it’s United Airlines.  I said: What’s the difference?  He goes: You can tell the difference if you’re a pro.  I go: Well, I gotta be a pro.  You know.  I was teaching school at Campbell High School in ‘Ewa Beach.  He came to see me.  So, he came in, and he came into my classroom and he sat down, and he said: Can I talk to you?  And I go: Sure; how you doing?  You know.

 

 

So, he looks at me and he says: Joe Moore is leaving for Channel 2 to do the news; we want you to do the sports at six and at ten. And I told him: No.  He says: What?  What?  He says: How much do you make?  I say: Seventeen thousand dollars a year teaching school, and I like it.  And he says: I’ll double it.  Now, it’s up to thirty-four thousand.  And he says: I’ll double it.  I say: No, I don’t want that.  I’ve been in this part-time, and I don’t like it, it’s kind of a phony business.  You know.  And he’s looking at me kind of funny, he’s looking at me kind of funny. And I said: Look, I live in this community, I ride my bicycle to school every day.

 

Okay; but Channel 9 was the biggest station of its time.

 

Oh, it was.  It was.

 

But still, were you negotiating at this point?

 

No, no, no, no.  There was no negotiation here.  No, no.  What I was trying to say is that I liked my job, I liked where I was, and I liked what I was doing as a teacher.  He says he’ll double it.  I say: No, because I like it.  He says–and this is what got me, this is what got me: When are you going to think of your own children instead of everybody else’s?  Uh … uh … uh … and I knew that this offer was not gonna be there, because this is Friday, and he wants me to be there on Monday.

 

And lots of other people wanted the job.

 

That’s right; that’s right.  So, he said: And I’ll triple it.  So, I said: Well, I’ll take a sabbatical one year, see how it is. And I never went back.

 

Jim Leahey’s sportscasting career took off as he informed and entertained.  And in live sporting events for the University of Hawai‘i, he did more than call plays; he was a masterful storyteller. But he was no master of his emotions. He wore his heart on his UH sleeve.

 

He loses the ball!  Rainbows have it!  *  How sweet it is!  How sweet it is!

 

This is delicious!

 

Here comes Muhammad.  Muhammad step on the plate, he’s safe.  The Rainbows have defeated UCLA.  I don’t believe it!  I don’t believe it!

 

Jim Leahey made the job look easier than it was.  While some of it came naturally to him, he also did a great deal of homework, prepping for a game.

 

It’s a tremendous thing, and what you had to do, and the amount of hours.  Oh, I should have brought in my scorebooks, where I had to handwrite all the updated statistics for the next game.

 

You just immerse yourself in all the information.

 

And it takes hours, and hours, and hours.  And then, you know, you go and do the best you can in describing—

 

And then, how did you come up with some of the expressions you’ve used on the air? I imagine you thought about them ahead of time.  I mean, when you said at the Brigham Young game that Hawai‘i won, you know: This is better than statehood.  That was perfect.

 

You know, that just came.  That just came into my mind, because that’s how I felt.

 

Yeah.

 

That’s how I felt.

 

And the enthusiasm in your voice is just palpable.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you consciously build enthusiasm in games, or is that natural?

 

I think that you … in order to present the theater of the mind—I keep going back to that, especially in radio.  In radio, you have to describe everything.  And when you do, people have different ways of looking at it.  They have different ways of looking at the stadium, different ways of looking at the grass in the stadium, different ways of where the baseball players are playing defensively.  How does the batter look, what kind of bat does he have, what kind of stance does he use, what kind of pitch is going to come his way.  All of that have to be conveyed.  Now, on television, everyone sees the same picture.  But you still have to enhance it.  You have to enhance who these people are, what kind of record does the pitcher have.

 

With a few words, too.

 

And the words that you use come from reading, reading, reading, reading, reading.  And it doesn’t have to be sports; it can be anything else.  Because then you can compare and contrast.  That ball is aloha.  Homerun; that ball is aloha.  No one in the other forty-nine states is going to say: What?  What is that?  But the people here do.  So, you have to be very concerned with your audience, too.  You have to really be concerned with that.

 

Now, Bob Sevey was probably better known than most governors.

 

Yes.  He was a tremendous guy, and I owe a lot to him.  Really.

 

And yet, it wasn’t smooth sailing all the time.

 

No.

 

Because he was broadcast management, so you had your tiffs with him.  In fact, one time I said–I think we called you Kimo.

 

Yeah.

 

Kimo Leahi at the time.

 

Yeah.

 

What’s Kimo angry about?  And he goes: I don’t know.

 

There were a lot of guys in that newsroom that were the same.

 

Always angry about something.  And they reported the news, I think, the best that it could be reported.  But for me, working on that particular crew—and then you have Blangiardi coming in, and his idea about taking the events of the University of Hawai‘i football team, basketball team, volleyball team, and to televise it to the Hawaiian Islands was amazing.  And he had a man who worked very, very hard at it, and that was Stan Sheriff.  And Stan Sheriff built already a big arena at Northern Iowa when he was there, before he came as the athletic director at the University of Hawai‘i.  And he fought with the politicians all the time, because the politicians were saying: We don’t need a big arena; the only good team we have is volleyball, we only need four thousand seats.  And he says: No, we—

 

Think big.

 

Think big.  Because we need fifteen thousand, because then we can have regionals, then we can have—you know, it would be national; it would be national.  That’s what he was looking for.  He was so dedicated to what he did, it killed him. Because one night after coming back from the mainland, he went to pick up his baggage and died, right there. And so, that was really a tragedy. But we kept working at it, and Blangiardi kept working at it.  And so, Blangiardi, even though he was management, he was my color man.  He was my color man in what I consider the greatest game, which was in 1989 when the Bows finally beat Brigham Young after ten years.

 

Farmer at the forty.  Farmer at the forty-five.  Farmer at the forty.  in front of it.  The thirty, the twenty, the fifteen, the ten, the five!  Touchdown!

 

I’m not sure. They say no!  And they put it on the three-yard line!  No way!  No way!

 

He has it at the fifteen.  He will score!

 

Final seconds will tick away.  And so, if you ask yourself: Is this the year?  Is this the year?  You better believe this is the year!

 

I remember the time watching that clip.  Rick Blangiardi sat at Jim Leahey’s side, providing color commentary during many live sports events.  Once the broadcast was over, though, Blangiardi’s role went back to being the boss at the TV station.

 

And he fired me twice.  And his method of firing, I mean, it was Broadway show. Get out, you’ll never work in this town again.

 

 

I chase him down the stairs to his car, make sure he leaves.  And I go: Boy, I don’t want to get fired like that.  And yet, I was.  One night, he’s gonna show the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I went … No, no; you don’t want to watch this.  I did the sports lead-in to the movie.  I said: You don’t want to watch this.  Tomorrow night, we have a better, it’s better for the kids, we have a better movie.

 

So, you were an employee of the station telling people not to watch the station.

 

Absolutely.

 

Right; okay.

 

That’s the first thing he said to me when I came in the next day.  And then following that is: You’re done, you’re finished, you’ll never work in this town again.  So, I drive home, I drive home and I tell my wife: Toni, I’m sorry, but I got fired today; I got fired by Blangiardi.  And she, being the Catholic school girl that she was, said: What did you do now?

 

Okay?  So, I said: Chainsaw Massacre.  Ring; the phone rings.  It’s Blangiardi.  Eh, this is Blangiardi.  You know.

 

And he says: We had a good one today; yeah?  And I go: Yeah, you fired me.  Ah, don’t worry about that, come back tomorrow.

 

But see, he’s like nobody else.

 

Some chances you don’t get more than once.

 

No.

 

Yeah.

 

Yeah.  But the thing is, I think that now that I’ve retired, I find it very difficult.

 

Okay. This is really the nub of it. You’ve just retired from sportscasting, after more than sixty years.  Sportscasting has defined your life; you’ve loved it.  Other people have a love-hate relationship with their job, or they really lost interest a while back.  But you have always been all in, all love it.  You know, whatever you’ve had to put up with to do it, you’ve loved. So, now what?

 

Ooh; that’s a good question, isn’t it?

 

You’re supposed to think about it before you retire.

 

Yeah.  I … I did think about it, but it was like on and off, on and off, on and off.  And then, when I had my last tiff with the management of the radio station that carried University of Hawai‘i basketball—

 

Oh, that’s right.

 

I mean, baseball.

 

You’ve probably been fired from other places too; right?

 

Yeah, yeah.  I’ve been fired from other places, too.

 

So, this one, the manager says: Well, it was only a two-year deal.  I said: two-year, I never signed anything.  Where is it; show me the paper.  So, I’m telling them: Look, I can do it one more year; I know I can do it one more year.  And he goes: Well, you know, I don’t know, in one or two years, the new guys that’s coming in, they actually work here, and… And I go: Well.  And he says: Well, call me.  I hang up.  My wife is across the room, and she’s giving me the what-for.  I mean, her eyes are like, neeeee.  She says: Don’t you ever do that again.  And I said: What?  Beg people for a job.  Do you know the kinda people they are, compared to you?  What are all these awards?  What are all these; you haven’t done anything?  You’re just coming up, just starting?  No, you don’t even need ‘em.  Now’s the time for you to step away.  That’s what she tells me; now’s the time for you to step away.  Now, we have been married fifty-two years.  And when her eyes get big, I tend to take that as a signal that I’d better maybe start to think in a different way.

 

Jim Leahey’s home life was in many ways a reflection of his life as a sports fan, enjoying the give-and-take and the back-and-forth opinions, even relishing the disagreement and not wanting to give an inch.  He credits his wife Toni and their three children for opening him up to new perspectives, and making him a better person.  Those real-life spirited discussions around the kitchen table became the format for Leahey & Leahey, a show he co-hosted with his son Kanoa Leahey for nine years here on PBS Hawai‘i.

 

I would love to have been at your family’s dinner table over years, because I know it was vociferous debate many times.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

We saw it when you and Kanoa were doing the show here together.  You would take positions, and you would advocated mightily. And both of you were so articulate in doing so.  And it could get very …

 

Yes, it could.

 

So, I think you’re comfortable with conflict.

 

Yes.

 

And I think …

 

Because in conflict, if you have the right conflict, if you have the kind of conflict where you leave and you don’t like the person anymore, you know.  But if you leave with respect, you can converse, you know, all the time.

 

It’s true that you don’t solve anything unless you work it out.

 

That’s right.

 

So, what were your dinner table conversations like as a family?

 

Oh, when we disagreed with each other, it was: How can you possibly be saying that, when you called yourself a human being? You know.

 

Ooh, that sounds a little personal.

 

Well, yeah.  I mean, but the other ones were: No, no, no, that’s not right.  Because especially when they got into high school, then they could argue back, then they could really make a case.  Then they could say: Yeah, well, you don’t know anything; you don’t know anything about this.  And I didn’t like that, because … they were right; I didn’t know anything about that.

 

But did you admit it?

 

No; not then.

 

No, of course not.

 

But later on; you know, later on, you do. No; the family dinner is something that is very special.  The family dinner is something that, what happened during that day, you discuss it. And sometimes, you agree, sometimes you don’t agree, sometimes you leave it unsaid, or solutions un—

 

Is any conversation forbidden, any subject forbidden?

 

No; absolutely not.  And I think my wife watches that pretty good.  She goes: Don’t say that.  You know, that kinda stuff.

 

And everybody listens to her.

 

Yes.  I mean, she’s the one that sets the standard.  My wife and I set the standards.  Fifty-two years; fifty-two years of the greatest arguments that you will ever hear.

 

Who wins?  Who wins your arguments?

 

— vocabulary, I may say.

 

Oh, I bet.

 

Yeah.

 

She’s a teacher, and you’re a word guy.

 

I’ll tell you what.  When we go to sleep, we’re solving it.  So, when the lights go out, about a half hour after that … Sorry, I said [INDISTINCT].  And I think that’s the best way.  You can disagree, but then there’s also that it’s not permanent.  It’s not permanent.

 

And you learn something from every argument?  Is that what you think?

 

You learn most of it; you learn most of it in there.  But I wouldn’t trade her.

 

Right now, people are so polarized, and we have a hard time talking to each other about our differences.  And you feel really comfortable doing that.  It’s had some negative effects, but it’s really healthy to talk when you don’t agree.

 

Yes.

 

Right?

 

Yes.  That’s the only way that you really make progress.  If you’re afraid not to state your views, if you’re afraid to say that what I believe … I really don’t, I really don’t think it’ll work.  You gotta go in there with some certainty.  You gotta go in there and say: Yeah, that’s a good point, and I’ll give you that, but.  And then you challenge, you challenge, you know, whatever they have to say.

 

Have you ever regretted that you spoke up or disagreed?

 

Sure.  Sure.

 

Why?

 

Oh, I think that I … emotionally, I leapt emotionally before I leapt intellectually.  And at the end, I think I hurt the person a little bit too much. Lady.  So, I called her up and said: If that’s an example of me, I was not up to standard.  You know. But you have to have respect for the person.  You have to have.  You know, what they say to you, you learn from that.

 

Do you think it made your kids stronger, that you’re such a strong personality, and outspoken?  And obviously, Toni is very much a part, and probably quieter and more definitive when it’s over.  But you know, your kids hear a lot from you.  Do you think it’s made them stronger?

 

I think it’s made me stronger.  I think it’s made me stronger.  Because when I talk to them on the phone or something like that and they have a point, they go boom-boom-boom-boom.  You know.  Yeah. That’s right; that’s right.  Yeah, yeah, okay.  Yeah, okay.  Yeah, that’s okay.  All right. Let me look into that.  You know, that kind of made me stronger.  At times, you know, I think it’s helped them with their problems.  Everybody has problems.  But I just think, you know, you’re Leaheys, and we have a pride, we have a way of doing things, and what you’ve said has made me stronger.  I finally understand where you’re coming from; finally understand.

 

You know what I noticed about you when you were doing a show here?  ‘Cause I got to observe you.  If a guest didn’t show, if for some reason a featured guest was not available for the taping, it didn’t concern you whatsoever.  You and Kanoa knew you could put on a half-hour program.

 

Sure; yeah.

 

Adlib it, and it would be a really good show.  And it was not necessary, even though it would have been welcome.

 

It would have been better.

 

That would be so daunting to almost anybody else.

 

No; because see, that’s who we are.  That’s who we are.  We deal with ideas, we deal with viewpoints.  We deal with things that happen.  And maybe our viewpoint is a little bit off, a little bit different, but we’re going to explain it to you.  You know, we’re going to show you.

 

What do you think about Kanoa?  When you listen to him call sports, do you hear yourself, and then do you hear things that you wouldn’t say?

 

I hear myself; I hear the same things that I’ve said in the past.  But I also hear something that … is really good.  It’s really original.  But I can still hold my own.  I can still hold my own in basketball, or have good games in baseball.  I think I’m a little bit better than he is in baseball. But don’t tell anybody.

 

Jim’s son, Kanoa Leahey, has taken his place in the Leahey dynasty as a consummate sportscaster very skilled at handling live coverage, and a sports talk show host.  Mahalo to Jim Leahey of East Honolulu for sharing your stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

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.

 

A horse walks into a bar.  Tell me the joke.

 

A horse walks into a bar.  The bartender looks up and says: Hey, big fella; why the long face?

 

That’s it; that’s the joke.  She got it.

 

That was perfect.

 

That was flawless delivery.

 

How many years; how many years did it take for you to remember that joke?  ‘Cause I used to tell it every day for about three months, and you never got it right. The bartender wasn’t right, the horse didn’t have a long neck.

 

Twenty-five to thirty years?

 

It was about that.  Yeah, it was about that.

 

 

 

A CRAFTSMAN’S LEGACY
The Swordsmith

 

Host Eric Gorges combs the country for America’s finest craftsmen, documenting what it means to be a modern-day maker. In each episode, Eric explains the history of an old-world craft as it is practiced in America today.

 

The Swordsmith
Eric takes a stab at swordsmithing with Master Bladesmith Kevin Cashen, learning about the mystical world of metallurgy and forging a spatha.

 

A CRAFTSMAN’S LEGACY
The Weave Master

 

Host Eric Gorges combs the country for America’s finest craftsmen, documenting what it means to be a modern-day maker. In each episode, Eric explains the history of an old-world craft as it is practiced in America today.

 

The Weave Master
Weaver Juanita Hofstrom wanted to have a place just for weavers to gather and pursue their love of weaving. She bought a little church around the corner from her house and started living that dream. Eric explores the ins and outs and up and overs of this traditional craft.

 

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

 

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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]



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