Hawai'i State News

Worldwide geography association honors Hawai‘i navigator Nainoa Thompson

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Nainoa Thompson on April 16, 2024. Photo Courtesy: PVS

The American Association of Geographers has announced Nainoa Thompson – famed navigator of the Hōkūleʻa – as its 2024 Honorary Geographer.

The annual award recognizes excellence in research, teaching or writing on geographic topics by non-geographers. Thompson was recognized and gave a presentation at the American Association of Geographers’ annual meeting in Honolulu on April 16.

“This award honors Nainoa for his groundbreaking efforts in reviving ancestral wayfinding practices and his advocacy for environmental sustainability. An explorer, Pwo Navigator, cultural revivalist, educator and storyteller, he has been instrumental in reconnecting the diverse lands and cultures of Polynesia,” said Reece Jones, the chair of the Department of Geography and Environment in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.


Thompson learned to sail using traditional methods of stars, wind and waves from master navigator Mau Piailug of Satawal. He also studied astronomy with Will Kyselka, Bishop Museum Planetarium lecturer. Thompson’s first journey was in 1980 when he guided the Hōkūle‘a, a traditional double-hulled canoe, from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti.

Currently serving as the CEO of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Thompson continues to pass down knowledge to future generations, emphasizing the importance of navigation and voyaging. He is a recipient of numerous accolades, including the 2017 Hubbard Medal from the National Geographic Society, the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation and the 2015 Peter Benchley Ocean Award for Excellence in Marine Exploration.

Past recipients of the American Association of Geographers Honorary Geographer Award include awardees such as authors Rebecca Solnit and N.K. Jemisin; architect Maya Lin; and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman.


The American Association of Geographers is a scholarly and professional association that advances understanding, interpretation and explanation of the world through research, education and practice in the field of geography. Founded in 1904 and headquartered in Washington D.C., it has 10,000 members worldwide.

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