In the press

A Custodian of Kauai’s Secrets

Robert Miguel, 35, works for Kukui’ula, a second-home development on Kauai in Hawaii.

New York Times

Robert Miguel- Island Pursuits Manager at Kukuiula

Q. Your title sounds like anyone else’s vacation. What exactly do you do?

A. I do feel a little guilty about it, but what I do for a living is what I would do if I did not have a job. It’s what I did as a kid here most of my life. Basically, I introduce visitors to and residents of Kukui’ula to local places, people and experiences and give them the cultural context they would not ordinarily get as tourists or seasonal residents. Wherever we take guests, our role is to be a sort of spiritual custodian of the land and water and the culture that’s intertwined with them.

What might you do on a typical day?

I am a waterman through and through, so some days it’s stand-up paddle boarding, fishing or spear fishing, to spots that our guests have never been to before. I also lead hikes into the island’s interior, the last of the areas untouched by modern progress that remain as they were in the days of the ancients.

How did your family end up on Kauai?

My parents were both born in the Philippines. Dad came to Kauai in 1974 with that generation’s wave of immigrants to work on a sugar plantation, which he continued to do as a drip irrigator until he retired in 1999. Out of a population of almost 70,000, I am one of those rare first-generation islanders born here.

You were once on the hotel management track for a large chain. Why did you leave?

I went to the University of Hawaii’s School of Travel Industry Management because I saw that tourism, not agriculture, would be the cash cow in this island’s future. But after about five years of rising through the hotel ranks to food and beverage manager, I saw senior managers who had already lost their passion and were dragging their feet, doing their jobs well but by rote. And I could see why: the long hours involved in the industry grind, the holidays spent working away from friends and family, and the inability to enjoy the outdoors because my days off were spent recuperating from work. I didn’t have many options and felt trapped in a world I didn’t love on an island I did love. I didn’t want to burn out at 40 or so. This company has let me grow and change to match the job to my strengths and interests. Now they have my loyalty.


View article on New York Times

Vocations asks people about their jobs. Interview conducted and condensed by Perry Garfinkel.