Tahitian master canoe builder Leon "Fafa" Toofa died Saturday evening after being swept out to sea during a coastal fishing trip in East Maui. His body was later recovered. Here, Toofa displays his Tahitian canoe built at the 2000 International Festival of Canoes in Lahaina.

Master carver
inspired kokua

WAILUKU » Tahitian Leon "Fafa" Toofa showed Valley Isle residents not only how to build canoes, but also took them into the forest of East Maui to harvest the koa trees for logs.

"He could pretty much free-hand anything with a chain saw," said Charles Noland, a Maui resident who served as an apprentice to Toofa.

Toofa, 67, of Pueu island, died Saturday evening during a fishing trip, after a large wave swept him into the ocean at Makaalae south of Hana Town, police Lt. Michael Kahoohanohano said.

Friends were unable to save him, and his body was retrieved about a half-hour to an hour after police received the call at 5:30 p.m., Kahoohanohano said.

Toofa was among a group of master canoe builders from other Pacific islands to participate in 2000 and 2002 in canoe-building events during the annual International Festival of Canoes in Lahaina.

"It's really sad," said Theo Morrison, executive director of the Lahaina Town Action Committee. "He was a great master carver."

Noland recalled that Toofa, who helped to supervise the harvesting of logs for the festival, was able to finish building a canoe in half a day.

Noland said he became Toofa's apprentice and helped him build three koa canoes for canoe clubs on Maui, harvesting the logs in East Maui in forests where there were only pig trails.

They would bless the trees before harvesting them and then rely upon canoe club members and supporters to haul them out of the forests, he said.

Whenever Toofa had money from building canoes on Maui, he would send it home to his family, Noland said.

"He was very family-oriented," Noland said.

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