Captain Mike Keli‘ipuleole

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Mike Keli‘ipuleole

Necessity is the mother of invention

After a practice run in the water, Mike Keliipuleole explained a contraption that he created and developed. It is a “truck shower,” in the back of the bed of his totally rubberized 90’s Chevy truck! Its purpose is to make showering-off after paddling a little easier. Keliipuleole is always on a tight schedule, whether he is in the water working out, or doing his work on the water.

He hails from an ohana of paddlers and watermen. His dad is the late Irwin Kelliipuleole, head coach of the Koa Kai Canoe Club. At the tender age of four, the elder Keliipuleole put him in a canoe. Since that time, Mike explains, “I took a long break that lasted through my teens into my early twenties.” His return came after a long time away from paddling. He played the typical “round ball sports,” including baseball, football and basketball.

When asked which race was his favorite, he replied, “That would definitely be the M2M OC-1 Race, from Maui to Molokai. It has always been a fun race because it has the best downwind surfing!” Other races include competing in the Molokai Hoe race on three occasions. He soloed twice, did the Molokai relay once, and the Eono Hoe. Growing up, his dad was his sole influence. He continued, “While growing up, paddling was the primary sport I was around. With my dad being a coach for as long as I could remember, I was first introduced to paddling, like many others, through him. (I remember)Canoes were constantly be-ing fixed in the yard, and Dad was always repairing everyone’s broken paddles. My dad coached every day, and I remember being there all the time. Paddling was just a daily part of life. To this day, there are people who tell me that he was their very first coach.”

Working on the water came after he gradu-ated from Saint Louis High School. He described his experience, “Like many local kids, I was always around the water and watched many ships and tugs enter and exit Honolulu Harbor. I’ve always found tugs very interesting, but learned that not very many people knew how to get started in such a career. They don’t teach you about becoming a Merchant Mariner in high school. In fact, I didn’t even know what a Merchant Mariner was until my later years in college. There are actually schools that people can attend, such as California Mari-time Academy (Cal Maritime), where you can pursue many different fields on vessels or shore-side. After attending that four-year academy, you will come out with a very big license which will enable you to work on any size vessel including ships.”
Mike is a captain for Sause Brothers Ocean Towing Company, based in Honolulu Harbor.

“Specifically, I drive the Tira Lani, which is a Z-drive Harbor Assist tug.” He ex-plained, “Basically, there are two types of tug boats. The first is an ocean tow boat, which we all see offshore, towing barges around the islands. The second is a harbor assist tug. An assist tug helps navigate ships or barges as they pass into narrow water-ways by pushing or pulling them to their designated piers, because ships and barges are not maneuverable in close-quarters.” “A Z-drive tug is unique in that it has two powerful thruster units that can direct thrust in any direction independent of one another. Think of a Z-drive tug as the ‘Corvette of tug boats’ because of its high power capabilities and ease of maneuver-ability. It can even rotate 360∞ in under five seconds, and it can go from full-ahead to full-astern in her own boat length, which is eighty feet. In the harbors division at Sause Brothers, we primarily operate as a ship and barge assist tug, in both Honolulu and Barbers Point Harbors. We also do assist-work in Kaunakakai and Kaumalapau on occasion.”

Prior to becoming a captain, Keliipuleole attended college for two years, directly after high school. He also worked as a captain for a sport fishing charter out of Kewalo Basin, aboard his family’s boat the Melekai, as well as a bartender on the Star of Honolulu.
He remarked on his very unique career, “If you seriously want to pursue a career as a Merchant Mariner, I would suggest attend-ing a maritime academy. There are several on the West Coast, and a lot more on the East Coast. There are endless opportunities available in both the wheelhouse and engine-room side of a vessel, as well as logistics and shore-side careers.

There will always be a need for commerce and delivery of goods across the seas. Mike stated, “I believe the need for Merchant Mariners will always be in request, although increasing regulation has made it harder for many to start from the ‘bottom and come up through the hawsepipe,’ like I did. The best place to start would be at a maritime academy. Educate yourself in the various positions available, and then find a fit that best suits you.”
From work to workout Mike trains all year long, at least three times a week, and explained, “I learned that you need a training partner or partners, because training alone is not very motivating or fun, let alone the safety issues of paddling OC-1, like on a smokin’ Hawaii Kai or Makapu’u run. Thankfully, the boys at my club (Healani Canoe Club) are always down to meet up for a training session.” “Also, for me, consistency is the best learning tool. The more I paddle, the more I improve. I’ve learned how differ-ent conditions play a role in how you must change your paddling technique, recogniz-ing bumps and how to read and connect them. Noticing changing currents and wind directions only comes with time spent on the water.”

Cross training on land

“Although running sucks, I incorporate running and training with weights. I feel these are necessary supplements to my workout routine to build strength and stamina.”
As conditions change, so does Keliipuleole’s training regimen. “I don’t just train on one type of run. I’ve learned that sprint, upwind, and flatwater are all valuable train-ing tools. Although smoking downwind runs are always fun, I don’t like getting stuck just doing Hawaii Kai runs. I also talk to other paddlers and ask them what they do for training. This has been helpful to me. I’m always down to try something new!”