Theft Puts Native Hawaiian Canoe Making Program on Hold

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BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN WINDWARD OAHU – Robert Puakea, known to most as “Uncle Bobby”, is one of the most cherished and well-known members of the native Hawaiian community in Windward Oahu.

A native of Hilo, Hawaii, Puakea has quietly dedicated decades to perpetuating the Hawaiian culture through his coaching of canoe padding and the workshops he holds for children and adults interested in learning to craft a Koa canoe and Koa paddles.


Once the Head Coach at Lanikai Canoe Club on Oahu, he was presented with a lifetime membership to the club in 1996 because of the many victories he had leading the teams to state championships.

The City & County of Honolulu honored him in 2003 for his commitment to preserving the art and traditions of Hawaiian canoe building.

His Alma Mater, Kamehameha Schools, has recognized his achievements.

Hawai’i Community College partnered with him in 1996 to institute canoe building in a more formal education setting.

He has created and repairs dozens of Koa canoes in his lifetime. “Learning the art of canoe building was not easy, especially from my father. From him I learned how to be patient, to become part of what you are doing, and most of all, to listen to the canoe or log,” writes Puakea, on his foundation web site.

But now it is Puakea who needs the community’s help.

The tools he uses to teach workshops and repair and make Koa canoes and make paddles were stolen last week from his container at Heʻeia Park.

The loss is devastating. The key equipment that he needs to keep his classes going including saws (Circular, power and worm drive saws), carving tools, grinders, sanders, generators, electric planers, routers and extension cords, were all taken.

One local business already stepped forward: American Savings.

Reivan Zeleznik, resident of Stamford, CT, pledged $1,000 if the foundation can raise $2,000 in matching funds.

Other individuals who have made donations include Bill Hojnacki, Hawaii, Dan Diffenderfer, Charlie Loiselle, John Foti, Ann Dewey and Malia Kamisugi from Hawaii.

Chris Keahi, from Johnston, Indiana and Lanakila Alexander from Holly Springs, North Carolina also contributed.

“The support is rolling in and we wanted to let all of you know how grateful we are to each and everyone of you,” the Foundation web site says.

But more donations are needed to purchase new equipment and keep the classes going. The foundation needs at least $3,000 to replace what was stolen.

For more information, write to; or to make a donation on line, go to