In this beautifully made documentary, viewers are transported to the Hawaiian Islands where they meet outrigger paddling guru Kimokeo Kapahulehua, who is on a mission to reconnect with his ancestors and spread Hawaiian culture.Kapahulehua leads the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyage Society (HOCVS) as they travel the length of the big islands and paddle 450 miles farther to reach the ancestor islands in the northwest.Cultural practices and connection with the past is a central theme in the documentary. Before leaving on the voyage, Kapahulehua leads dances and chants that bond the group and educate the diverse group of paddlers about the roots of the Hawaiian tradition. For Kapahulehua, it is his duty to let the traditions and wisdom of his ancestors live on.

“We must and we can teach everyone about the aloha spirit,” he says in the film.

The moments of cultural realization in the film added richness to the story. Kapahulehua’s perspective anchors the documentary and he is the clear source of culture and inspiration for the other characters.

To reach their goal, HOCVS worked around the clock, each teammate paddling 1-hour shifts a few times a day. The film takes you on the journey with the team by providing outrigger footage, on-ship testimonials, and scenes to parallel real-time events. This proved an effective strategy that keeps the audience engaged with the characters.

Three members of the team and two people from the production crew were present at the filming on Sunday night. They modestly answered questions about the excursion after the screening.

The film was dedicated to Kendall Struxness, a paddler who died of stage four colon cancer shortly after completing the voyage. He refused to stay at home for the trip and made it to the end of the journey despite severe physical pain and exhaustion.

In the film, Struxness said he found strength because the team wanted him there. “Family of the Wa’a” presents the story of one big paddling ohana that celebrates Hawaiian culture and supports one another to the very end.