Interview: Michael Dishman, Hawai’i Island’s Ecotour Guide of the Year

Each year the Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawai’i recognizes businesses and individuals who help to uplift their mission “to protect Hawaii’s unique environment and culture through the promotion of responsible travel and educational programs relating to sustainable tourism for residents, businesses, and visitors.” This year, the distinction of Hawai’i Island Ecotour Guide of the Year was given to Michael Dishman, a Zipline Through Paradise guide at KapohoKine Adventures. 

The awards are given each year to one guide per island, based on community nominations. It’s easy to see why Dishman received the nomination from his peers — in the five years that he’s been with the company, Dishman has played a big role in helping to keep KapohoKine Adventures the incredibly safe and eco-friendly tour company that it is. He also lives a very sustainable life outside of work. The Ironman competitor and sustainable living advocate is very active, which is helpful when it comes to his job and helping to protect the environment.

We sat down to get to know Dishman a bit better and see just what it was that made him stand out as Hawai’i Island Ecotour Guide of the Year.


BIP: Your commute to work is a little different than most peoples’. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Dishman: Well, I personally haven’t owned a car in well over 10 years. We moved up to Glenwood, so it’s a bit of a ride for me every day. That’s 30 miles one way. I don’t always ride back, I usually ride in then I’ll catch the bus or hop in with my girlfriend when she gets off work. 

BIP:What are some other aspects of your life that helped your peers choose you to nominate for the award?
Dishman: My girlfriend and I built two container houses. We always repurpose stuff and try to make something out of nothing. We can find reclaimed wood or we’ll get extra materials from friends who are remodeling their homes. We keep everything tiny, so we don’t need a whole lot.

I also like finding food on the side of the road. Avocados, mangoes, I think everyone likes to do that if possible, though. The beauty of being on a bike is you see a lot more of it, so I know where tons of trees are, and I know when things are going off. When I bike home tonight, actually, there’s an avocado sitting on the side of the road that I hope is still there. 

I also try to stop to pick up trash along the way when I’m biking to and from work, whenever I can. I try to lead by example, that’s how to win people over. The more you push, the more people pull.  

BIP: What Big Island resources do you like and find helpful for your sustainable lifestyle?
Dishman: I go to Habitat ReStore a lot for finding resources to help with building. I try to use the bus system when I can, though that could use some tweaking. But really, it’s the community. People really get sustainability out here, especially compared to a lot of places. I grew up in Missouri, and they just don’t get it.

BIP: What are some eco-friendly practices that are part of KapohoKine Adventures’ company culture that that makes you proud to work for them?

Dishman: With the exception of our vans, we are all off-grid at the zipline. We use solar for our electricity, catchment for our water (for cleaning and bathrooms), and rechargeable batteries in our power tools. We serve guests local, seasonal fruits and mac nuts as snacks at the zipline so that there isn’t a lot of trash produced. We have recycling bins and composting up there. Even our camera system runs on solar. It kind of blows my mind. 

BIP: What’s your favorite thing about working for KapohoKine Adventures?

Dishman: I love working outside, but getting to talk with the guests is my favorite part. I love to entertain them, inform them about the island, I joke around a lot on the tours. My co-workers are also great; it’s kind of like a family up there, everyone gets along really well. I enjoy going to work, it’s a fun job. It’s nice to be able to show people a good time while also making sure that safety is top priority.

I also like that I can sort of train for Ironman while I’m on the job – it makes me feel like a professional athlete. I usually try to volunteer for the job of doing the safety check of the grounds each day, checking the anchors, making sure a tree didn’t fall, etc. I drive the shuttle to the bottom of the hill for the guides to use later on, then run back up the 2.5 miles and do the check. It really helps me get part of my workout in.

BIP: What do you wish visitors knew about preserving Hawai’i’s fragile ecosystem before they come here? 

Dishman: One thing is definitely to use reef-friendly sunscreen when getting in the water. They should also try to learn what the native plants are so that they don’t go tearing things up. Also, try to make less trash when you visit — if litter falls near a river, it’s headed toward an ocean. We’re on an island, and there’s only so long before the trash starts piling on top of itself. 

BIP: How has winning the award enriched your life?

Dishman: Getting to go over to Oahu and accept the award gave me a chance to hear about what other people are doing, to network and to learn, and it gave me ideas about how to make myself better. It makes me try to be more aware and to try harder in my daily life.

You can find Dishman regularly at KapohoKine’s Zipline Through Paradise location on the Hamakua Coast, and if you happen to see him riding his bike to work, be sure to say hi!


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