Goodbye Kris

Kris and my son
Kris & my son, Ngunguru, 2009

I don’t even know how to begin writing this.

My wife introduced me to her friend Kris Kjeldsen shortly after her and I met. He was born in Chicago, but moved to California when he was young and in the 60s he was a lifeguard at Zuma Beach in Malibu. By the late sixties, he had sailed a trimaran to Hawaii before hatching a plan to move on to New Zealand. There, he headed up north to Pawarenga, swapped his car for a horse — appropriately named Freepass — and made his way into the bush to build a home, start a family and live the good life. Clearly, this is the stuff of legend.

Watching over the propertyApproaching ParadiseNo Kooks
Approaching paradise, Ngunguru, 2008, 2009

Eventually, his love of water and his location in the Pacific came together and he began designing and building Waka Ama — Polynesian outrigger canoes. It’s impossible to measure his impact on the world of outrigger canoeing, particularly in his adopted country, but it is likely what he will most be remembered for. His brand, Moana Nui, can be found all over the world.

Waka Ama in productionThe sawPaddles ready
The workshop, Ngunguru, 2008, 2009

I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with Kris and have visited him at his new homestead in Ngunguru a few times. I’ve paddled one of his personal canoes, eaten fish he had caught and read books from his library. These are all fairly minor things, but Kris is a huge inspiration for me and these little things add up. His approach to life and understanding of the natural world is second to none and I am grateful that he would share any of it with me. My wife has spent much more time with Kris and has plenty more to be grateful for.

He was excited to hear about our plans for Gambier Island and we looked forward to sharing more with him.

Surfboards collecting dust
Remnants of earlier days, Ngunguru, 2008

Last night we found out that Kris passed away on June 30, 2011. He lived an amazing life and has left behind an incredible legacy, but I am saddened by all that I will miss.

His eldest daughter has moved north, into his home and she’ll be running the business with her family. I don’t imagine this was an easy decision, but I’m very happy the story continues. I look forward to visiting, but it will be hard knowing that Kris won’t be there.

My daughter will have been too young to remember him, but my son might. Either way, they will both hear the story of a man who rode into the bush, was welcomed into a culture and became a hero.

Rest in peace.


  1. Hi – What a beautiful tribute to Kris. I just learned of his death two days ago and found your lovely words while trying to find an obituary. I’m still in shock, but hope to be publishing my own tribute to Kris in a few days on my website Kind regards, Bob Feigel (Matapouri, NZ)

    Comment by Bob Feigel on August 15, 2011 at 9:54 pm
  2. Thanks Bob, I appreciate the kind words. We’re still coming to terms with the loss here. On a more positive note, Matapouri is a beautiful place. My brother-in-law’s family has a bach there and we were lucky enough to visit back in 2008.

    Comment by Jason Landry on August 16, 2011 at 2:00 am
  3. Here’s the link to the tribute I wrote for Kris:

    Comment by Bob Feigel on May 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm

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