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Monte Costa ’74

Leif Aaron Tabernero

Hokule‘a’s Storytellers

Over the last 40 years since her first voyage, Hokule‘a’s story has been told by many voices through verse, song, dance and imagery, each story taking on a life of its own through the eyes of the person who experienced it.

The alumni featured here have found their own unique ways to continue sharing Hokule‘a’s story: from behind a lens, in Google Hangouts across oceans or simply by sharing tales of the sea.

Read additional stories in this feature by Michael “Buddy” McGuire ’58 and Maui Tauotaha ’97.

By Rachel Breitweser ’03

Salt spray, jostling waves and sudden downpours: These are certainly not ideal conditions for a camera. For Hokule‘a photographer Monte Costa ’74, these factors are just a part of the job as she braves the elements to create her iconic images. (Pro tip: “A Pelican case is the only thing that’s truly waterproof,” she attests.)

This photo was taken by Costa in 2015, as the Polynesian voyaging canoe, Hokule‘a, approaches the Twelve Apostles near Cape Town, South Africa, midway on its journey around the world.

In the face of these challenges, Costa feels at home aboard the canoe. She has become the “go-to” freelancer for images of the Voyage. Her documentary images have been featured in magazines including Hawaiian Airline’s Hana Hou!, Discovery, Life and National Geographic, and books such as “Discovery: The Hawaiian Odyssey,” and “KAPUNAHOU.”

Costa’s love for photography stretches back to her days at Punahou, hanging out in the darkroom of Jim Little’s class. “I had a knack for visuals,” she explained. “It was comfortable for me.” Growing up, Costa also watched her mom blossom into a self-taught photographer supporting her various publicity efforts, largely for nonprofit organizations.

While a biology major in college, Costa worked summers in Hawai‘i as an intern in the photo department of The Honolulu Advertiser. Later, she became a staff photographer, the first woman to do so.

Her stint with the paper pushed her to become a more proficient photographer. “Speed was the name of the game,” she said. And though she’s more of a reserved person, photography gives her “license to move into people’s lives, and they are willing to let me in,” she shared. “If I didn’t have a camera, I wouldn’t naturally be so forward.”

One of her first assignments was to document Hokule‘a’s arrival back from Tahiti in July 1976. Some eleven years later, Costa’s interest in Hawaiian voyaging was sparked anew when, in 1987, she covered the homecoming from the two-year, “Voyage of Re-Discovery,” at Kualoa, O‘ahu. “Things took off from there,” she said.

Now she travels with the canoe to document its activity and add to the historic archive. And while some photographers stick to a predetermined shot list, Costa doesn’t. Although it takes more time to discover images as things unfold, Costa finds it frees her up to capture the candid “moments between the big moments.”

“You really have to know the story you want to tell – internalize it before you go, make it a part of you. What are the themes, and where are you going?” she explained. “This idea is rooted in my early connection with the International Center of Photography, which was founded on the belief that photography is a universal language and it can affect social change.”

Costa’s deep understanding of Hokule‘a’s story stems from a longtime connection with the ocean. It was Tommy Holmes, a founder of the Polynesia Voyaging Society, who introduced her. He taught her to surf and how to steer canoes. “He fundamentally shifted me towards the ocean,” she said. “Photographing with Hokule‘a isn’t all that I do, but it’s a big part of who I am. The canoe has been a persistent theme in my work. You could say she’s been my greatest inspiration.”

Recently, Costa met up with Hokule‘a in South Africa and in New England, and visited with Punahou’s group of Malama Kumu. She’s also donated images for use in the classroom as educational materials, and she has a niece, Sophia ’23, who attends Punahou.