Thompson began his study under master navigator Mau Piailug of Satawal, Micronesia, in 1978. In 1980, Thompson made history as the first Hawaiian in hundreds of years to navigate a voyaging canoe from Hawaii to Tahiti using only the stars and other traditional wayfinding techniques. The canoe, Hokule‘a, has since sailed to every major island group in Polynesia, as well as to Micronesia and Japan. Plans are being made now for a worldwide sail. In 1994, under Thompson’s supervision, PVS completed the construction of a new Hawaiian voyaging canoe, Hawa‘iloa, made from authentic materials.
In Hawaii and throughout Polynesia, Thompson has led a revival of traditional arts associated with voyaging. He is currently developing an educational program designed to teach Hawaiian children about Polynesian voyaging traditions and conservation principles, along with modern scientific knowledge about the ocean, sky, and land environments.