An Award-winning Man And Film

Freelance photographer Marta Czajkowska has met many interesting people in her world travels. The native of Warsaw, Poland, who has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Universidad de Cuenca in Spain, says her love for the arts has blessed her with opportunities to learn about different cultures and their people.

“I’ve been traveling the world since I was 17,” says Czajkowska, who is also an accomplished muralist, Web designer and climbing guide. “In my travels I look for authentic lifestyles and gravitate toward people who live unconventional lives close to nature and in the spirit of adventure.”

Uncle Joseph ‘Nappy’ Napoleon

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Uncle Joseph ‘Nappy’ Napoleon. Marta Czajkowska photo

When Czajkowska arrived in Hawaii, she found herself gravitating to the sport of canoe paddling. She had no idea an unexpected adventure would soon lead her to an award-winning project.

It started with paddler Cliff Tillotson’s vision to cross Hawaii’s nine ocean channels in six consecutive days in a one-man canoe. Tillotson had heard stories about veteran paddler Joseph “Nappy” Napoleon’s many accomplishments and asked the living legend if he’d be interested in taking part in the 240-mile expedition. Uncle Nappy agreed, and the group hit the ocean in July of 2008.

“This project literally fell in my lap when I was invited to come along and document the adventure on camera, and I could not resist that offer,” says Czajkowska. “During the course of the channel crossings, I started noticing the incredible power and peacefulness that Uncle Nappy Napoleon carries with him. His humbleness and toughness really inspired me.”

It didn’t take long for her to conclude that Uncle Nappy’s life story needed to be shared with the rest of the world.

“I was supposed to put together a short piece about crossing the channels, but decided against that and instead focused on the true hero of this adventure, the 68-year-old Hawaiian guy who just loves to paddle,” she says with pride.

Napoleon was born in Honolulu on May 9, 1941, and started paddling at age 8. In 1958, at the age of 17, he competed and won his first Molokai-to-Oahu canoe race with Waikiki Surf Club. He hasn’t missed a crossing in more than five decades, and is still considered one of the greatest steersmen of all time.

Czajkowska produced and directed I Just Love to Paddle, and asked George Quirin to serve as the film’s music composer. She says the film wasn’t about a long journey; instead it focused on a man “who lives, loves, practices, teaches and perpetuates an ancient tradition in the contemporary world.”

She continues, “There are many stories of heroes long gone, but this is a story about someone who proves to be a source of vast knowledge and a connection to the ancient Hawaiian traditions.”

The film received rave reviews from paddlers all across the world and was recently recognized as one of the finest action sports films by the Honolulu Film Awards. I Just Love to Paddle was the only documentary film in the category to receive the prestigious Silver Lei Award.

“I am just happy that this award will bring some attention, and hopefully more people will have a chance to learn from Uncle Nappy on how to live their lives more happily,” says Czajkowska. “The main message of this movie is life can be simple and full of love. Uncle Nappy teaches us in a very subtle way how to be at peace with who we are, enjoy our family, enjoy nature and be at one with the ocean. Somehow it is very easy to learn from him. His humbleness and simplicity make us feel good and at ease.”

Czajkowska notes that in a time when pop icons exhibit ambitious self-promotion, glitz and sex appeal, Uncle Nappy is a humble hero.

“He radiates an inner calm, patience and infectious confidence,” says Czajkowska with great admiration. “He possesses an extraordinary bond with nature and a magical relationship with the ocean. There are few paddlers in the world who can match the experience and knowledge of Nappy Napoleon. If there were degrees in paddling, he has the highest doctorate.”