Read Hawaiian Hero Eddie Aikau’s Biography, “Eddie Would Go” (311/366)

“The voyage would do something very important for the Hawaiian people and for the rest of the world.”
~ Nainoa Thompson, “The Ocean Is My Classroom” written by Gisela E. Speidel

If you’ve been to Hawaii, along with the “Hang Loose” and “Aloha” messages everywhere, you may have seen bumper stickers or decals that read, “Eddie would go” and wondered, “Eddie? Who’s that? And where was he going?”

Eddie Aikau was a phenomenal surfer and the first lifeguard on O’ahu’s North Shore, at Waimea Bay. The North Shore is home to some of the most massive waves in the world – certainly not for the casual surfer – and Eddie not only loved surfing these wicked and treacherous waves, but saved hundreds of lives from them.

The Aikau family was known and respected by everyone, and because of this, had much influence that they used to encourage the spirit of brotherhood among their community and to perpetuate Hawaiian values;  especially as big wave surfing – the royal pastime of Hawaii’s ancient kings – grew as a world respected sport: through turbulent times of racial tension, the turmoil of the Vietnam war, and a cultural reawakening in Hawaii.

While Eddie was a remarkably gifted waterman and one of the best surfers of his time, he was a modest and quiet person off the water. He loved his family and friends, he loved playing guitar, and he loved his people. In the 70’s, the Polynesian Voyaging Society was formed, and a project began to build a life-sized, sailing replica of the great ships that brought the ancient Polynesians across the sea; and to see if it would indeed be able to make the journey between Hawaii and Tahiti – without the use of modern technology – using only the stars as their guide. Eddie wanted to honor his homeland and be a part of the crew that sailed the Hokule’a, named after the star they’d follow.

On its second voyage to Tahiti from Hawaii, the Hokule’a capsized during a violent storm, and its sixteen crew members, many of whom had not sailed on the Hokule’a before (including Eddie), were tossed into the sea. On its maiden voyage, the Hokule’a had carried a journalist and photographer to document its journey, so it had been accompanied by an escort boat, but this time the crew was without an escort or any modern technology save a radio and emergency beacon, both lost when the ship capsized.

As the crew and the badly damaged Hokule’a drifted further and further out to sea, and the hours passed without any rescue, Eddie convinced the captain to let him take his surfboard (he had brought it to surf the waves of Tahiti) and paddle through the storm over 20 miles to land, to send help.  Eddie set off on his board toward Lana’i at 10:30am on March 17, 1978.  That evening the ship and crew were spotted, and all of the remaining crew members were rescued. Although the massive search effort for Eddie – the largest air-sea search in Hawaii’s history – lasted a week, Eddie Aikau was never found.

Eddie Ryon Aikau was in life, and even in death and beyond, a Hawaiian hero and helped to spread the warmth and culture of the Islands through his love, strength, and endless spirit of Aloha. Today, he is remembered and honored at the annual Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational Surf Contest, running from December through February where “The Bay Calls the Day,” and the competition does not commence unless the waves are at least over 20 feet tall.  In the 27 years since its inception, the actual contest has only been held 8 times.

Mom and I got to be there for the opening ceremonies last year, and it is truly a moving and beautiful event. All of the participants (some of the best surfers on the planet) paddle out past the break and form a circle, say a prayer, and throw their leis into the center and splash water into the air in honor of Eddie’s memory.  Afterwards, the Aikau family still serves lunch to all in attendance, just how Mom and Pops Aikau always welcomed all to their home in true Aloha style.

This book is a wonderful glimpse into the life of Eddie Aikau and those he touched. If you’re at all interested in Hawaii, surfing, or the triumph of the human spirit, read this book.

Related Links:
Eddie Would Go: The Story of Eddie Aikau, Hawaiian Hero and Pioneer of Big Wave Surfing 

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