Taking the Stage

On your average day, Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based freelance writer contributing to publications such as FLUX Hawaii; on the side, she is one of the organizers of TEDxMaui, a local iteration of the worldwide buzz-creating platform. We asked her to get us the scoop on the event, since she has helped select the 19 speakers who will take the stage, so she caught up with the diverse talents that are Taimane Gardner, Sunny Savage, and Kimi Werner.

Taimane Gardner - FLUX Hawaii


Hometown: Honolulu, Hawai‘i

Taimane Gardner picked up her first ‘ukulele at the age of 5—and it was love at first strum. Demonstrating her impressive musical chops as a young street performer in Waikiki, Taimane (which means “diamond” in the Samoan language) was a diamond in the rough until Don Ho discovered her at the age of 13. The budding songstress soon became a featured performer with the legendary Hawaiian crooner. Known for her unique musical vision and innovative ‘ukulele style, she has the ability to blend musical genres—from classical to classic rock to flamenco—without missing a beat.

Let’s jump right in. Tell us what you’ve been up to lately.

I’ve been working nonstop on my new album, We are Made of Stars. I’m doing it completely on my own, which has been a voyage in itself. All the songs are originals; I’ve written a song for each planet in the solar system and it is my baby. It’s a huge step for me and I hope people will respond to it.

What drew you to the ‘ukulele?

I’ve always been a ham on stage, even before I had a ‘ukulele in my hand. I was singing and dancing, and then my father gave me my first uke when I was five and I haven’t looked back. I was drawn to it because it was small—like me at the time—and it made people happy when I played it.

What do you hope people get out of your music?

Anything is possible. Even with a ‘ukulele! Most people don’t take me seriously because I’m a woman and I play the uke. They expect a hula girl dance number with a grass skirt. When I get on stage, I hope to break people’s expectations they have for the ‘ukulele—and for women.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?

My advice is to follow your passion and go with it without any expectations. Everyone is born on this planet for a specific reason and if you sidestep it because of the fear that it won’t go anywhere, or you’re not doing it right, or even the power it will bring, life is a waste. Live it to fullest and follow your passion, whatever it is, and life will be satisfying for you, no matter what obstacles it brings.

Is there a song you simply play for yourself?

It changes, but right now I’m enjoying playing some Lana Del Rey tunes on the guitar.

What is the greatest “aha moment” you’ve experienced?

Regarding music, I’ve been having a lot of “aha moments” lately since I’ve been working on my album: “What? Too much reverb? What’s that? Oh…that’s too much. How do I copyright a song? Bam! Thank you, Internet.” It’s a lot of work; it makes you realize how much love and care is put into art.

What do you love most about Hawai‘i?

The ocean, the forest, downtown buzz of modern life, the uncles in Kanikapila, surfing. The balance between old culture and new is what I enjoy the most. However, I wish we would hold onto the old a little bit more. Hawai‘i shouldn’t be like any other big city—because it’s not.

How did you decide on the music for your TEDxMaui performance?

I decided with what I feel most comfortable with. And those are the classics. However, I may totally change my mind once I get on stage. My performances are tailored to the audience in front of me.

What’s next for you (after TEDxMaui)?

Finishing this album.

Sunny Savage - FLUX Hawaii


Hometown: Osage, Minnesota

A wild food advocate, Sunny Savage is the host, writer, and associate producer of internationally renowned wild-food adventure cooking TV show, Hot on the Trail, and has been a headlining chef at the Taste of Chicago. She is a co-founder of the Wild Food Summit, believing strongly in the nutritional power and sustainability implications of wild foods. As if that weren’t impressive enough, Sunny has also worked at the remote McMurdo Station in Antarctica and with Tibetan refugees at the Dalai Lama’s temple in India. Sunny has spent three years on a sailboat filming a documentary about the life skills our youth will need to thrive in a quickly changing world.

Tell me a bit about your background and what led you to speak at TEDxMaui.

My parents were hippy intellectuals, paving the way for a great many freedoms I enjoy. I grew up listening to ideas being debated in my grandparents’ home, where education and intellectual vigor were encouraged. When I got my Master’s of Science in Nutrition Education, this whole new area of wild food research was opening up about their powerful nutritional qualities. Now, nearly 10 years later, there is another explosion of research happening surrounding wild foods and their role in helping us face the challenges of feeding an expanding population amidst global climate change. I felt the time was ripe to submit my idea to TEDxMaui.

What are two things you’d like to share with our readers that might be unexpected or surprising?

Just like everyone else, I’ve experienced a lot of pain in my life. There have been deaths, depression, financial woes, physical ailments, and single motherhood. Somehow, we pick ourselves up and keep going. Wild foods have always been there for me during those times, lifting my spirits and providing nourishment in very profound ways.

What do you hope people will do after they hear you speak at TEDxMaui?

I hope people will realize that wild foods are already growing all around them.

Inquiring minds want to know: When, where and how did your love of foraging for wild foods develop?

When I was 18, I went to work in the kitchens in Antarctica for a year. Everything was canned or frozen. I volunteered in a little experimental greenhouse that was about 10’ x 10’ and remember watching the peas grow. I had to share the bounty with other volunteers and only got one pea, but it was like a gift from heaven. I savored all 13 chews. When I got home from that experience, my mom had gotten into herbal medicine. I opened the pages of her new books and read that many of the wild medicinal plants were also edibles. Food as medicine! It was totally my “aha” moment and I was emblazoned with passion for wild foods from that moment on.

I know it’s tough to narrow down, but what is your favorite thing about Hawai‘i?

The aloha spirit. It is a living entity, and I feel honored that part of my sacred responsibility is in keeping love and beauty alive.

TED’s mission, “ideas worth spreading,” is fairly lofty. How do you know your idea is worth spreading?

I know it is worth spreading because I have seen it in action. The idea that you can eat a wild food that is growing for free, in your own backyard, and that provides you with phenomenal nutrition, speaks to a very wide audience. This idea is not mine; it is part of our shared human history—and when that is remembered, I love being there to see another person’s eyes sparkle with that knowledge.

Kimi Werner - FLUX HawaiiImage by Justin Turkowski


Hometown: Ha‘ikü, Maui

At any given time, there’s a good chance you’ll find Kimi Werner packing her bags for a new adventure—on land or in the sea. Whether she’s exploring cultural ecology or hitching a ride on the dorsal fin of a great white shark, the perennial globetrotter, freediver and spearfisher is always on the move. Born and raised on Maui, Kimi’s deep connection to her island home is a guiding force in her life. Today, she inspires others as an ambassador of nature, accomplished chef and professional artist who embodies the heart and soul of simple and sustainable living.

Let’s jump (or should I say dive?) right in. Tell us what you’ve been up to lately.

I’ve been traveling a lot. I just got back from Japan, California, Alaska, Tahiti, China, Indonesia and Australia. It’s been my goal to see the world through diving, and explore both above and below the surface of other places and cultures. It’s been amazing. Most of my trips have also involved trying to work with local communities and other ocean ambassadors to find out how we can better manage our local resources globally. It’s been really fun to learn and share ideas and get to know different cultures and ocean ecosystems.

Do you remember the exact moment when you realized, “This is what I’m meant to do”?

I was 25 years old and was just learning to spearfish again. Spearfishing was my favorite activity to tag along with my dad on. I was so little at the time and I didn’t actually spear my own fish, but it was my happy place. The happiest place I had ever known. It was challenging to find people who would take me—no matter who I asked—but once I started learning, I knew instantly. That very first dive where I was able to catch my own fish and totally surprised myself, I knew. I knew this was what I was meant to do. And all the dives that followed, even the ones where I wasn’t able to get the fish I wanted, I still knew. It was the process that made me happy. It was the lifestyle. I swore I’d never give it up again. It added such quality to life that I hadn’t known or felt for so long.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?

If you feel a pull towards a passion, don’t ignore it. Find ways—even if they seem like small steps to follow that passion—and do what it takes to manifest it. It doesn’t matter if you “make it.” It doesn’t matter if it takes a long time. If you truly love it, you will love the process of simply trying for it, even when it’s hard. I loved the challenges that held me back at diving because they kept me coming back for more. I didn’t mind when the learning process was slow, because I wanted it to last forever.

I know it’s tough to narrow down, but what is your favorite thing about Hawai‘i?

I love the people. I truly appreciate the way people take care of one another and support each other. I feel like the people of Hawaii are a big family and still know how to pull together as a community to take care of the earth, ocean and one another. I know it’s not always that simple but I believe in the people here. I believe in aloha and I want to perpetuate and cherish that forever.

What’s the motto you live by?

I don’t truly see spearfishing as a sport and try not to look at myself too much as an athlete, because diving is simply a lifestyle for me. But this quote by Mia Hamm helps guide me through decisions and keep me grounded when my achievements in spearfishing start taking me places that I’m unsure of: “Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back … play for her.”

Do you have a favorite TED talk?

Elizabeth Gilbert on the creative process.

What’s next for you (after TEDxMaui)?

I’d like to continue to travel, make a cookbook, publish a children’s book, do more art, make a wonderful website to host some of my creations and ideas. But mainly, I want to keep being inspired, keep diving and keep being able to feed myself and the people I love.

The third annual TEDxMaui event, which draws celebrated presenters from Hawai‘i and beyond, will take place on Sunday, Sept. 28, at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center (MACC) Castle Theater. The theme of the daylong event is “A Brilliant Life.” Tickets to TEDxMaui are on sale now through the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Box Office. Tuition for the daylong event is $100. To purchase tickets, call (808) 242-SHOW (7469) or visit mauiarts.org.

For more information about TEDxMaui and all 19 presenters, visit tedxmaui.com.

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