OluKai Sponsors TEDxMaui with a Polynesian twist

A full day of "ideas worth spreading" came to Maui Arts & Cultural Center last September, drawing an excited crowd of a thousand islanders. The event was TEDx Maui 2014, a perfectly run local variation of the global TED-talks phenomenon. Supported by OluKai and numerous other forward-thinking island companies and individuals, the event's 18 presenters rocked conventional thinking in uniquely Hawaiian ways. Standing ovations came in waves. Kimi Werner kicked off the day with her advice: "When you feel the need to speed up, slow down." Born and raised in Maui's jungle outback, this freediving aquatic athlete told the crowd how she came to her philosophy while competing in the world spearfishing championship. In the weirdly unfamiliar waters off Rhode Island she learned to control her fear and took first prize. She later used her own advice to establish rapport with a great white shark, and she showed video of herself catching a ride on the monster fish's dorsal fin. Renowned Maui waterman Dave Kalama, the stand-up paddling champion who helped to pioneer tow-in surfing, told his best how-I-almost-died story. Gigantic waves at "Jaws," Pe‘ahi, nearly crushed him into oblivion, and the audience gasped for breath as he told the tale blow-by-blow. As he told it, once he finally surfaced and realized he would survive, he told the rescue sled to get him back on a wave, any wave, now, or else he might never surf again. "I ended up having a good day," he said. Hawaiian oli, or chants, rocked the theater throughout the day. The booming voice of "Kumu Hina"—a transgendered kanaka maoli (native Polynesian) community leader from O‘ahu—preceded her statuesque red-and-gold clad presence on the stage. She spoke movingly about her recent journey to China to find her own father's ancestors. Sam ‘Ohu Gon III stepped forward in traditional garb (green maile lei, golden ‘ilima headband) to fuse ancient culture with contemporary science. Sam is both senior scientist at The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i and a kahuna skilled in chant prayer, and protocol. The subtext of the day was this: create social change through right thinking and smart living. Two presenters focused this theme on food. Wild-food advocate Sunny Savage proved that the weeds in your own backyard are not only super-healthy but free-of-charge. Daniel Anthony, dressed in a malo (loincloth), pounded taro throughout his talk while he praised poi as the perfect, almost forgotten food of Hawai‘i. Smiling outback-Maui carpenter Rick Rutiz showed that he is changing the lives of kids in remote Hana by getting them to build houses. In this the students learn math, collaboration, self-esteem, and the power to change their own lives. Barack Obama's half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, along with her colleague Kerrie Urosevich, demonstrated that "peacebuilding" is a subject that belongs in our schools right there with reading and mathematics. The day climaxed with a piano-banging kanikapila (jam session) kicked off by Hawaiian music legend Robert Cazimero. Much more than a multi-recorded songwriter-singer, Robert was a favorite of the revered kumu hula (hula teacher) Ma‘iki Alu Lake, and he was a pioneer in the creation of contemporary Hawai‘i's first all-male halau (hula schools). His presence, and in fact the entire TEDx Maui day, simply proved that Hawaiian Polynesia is not a dream. It is a very clear answer to the questions of our changing times. By Paul Wood

Shop The Story

Explore Similar Stories