HONOLULU (KHON2) — The legend of the man has grown exponentially in the 45 years since his untimely demise. As a result, Eddie Aikau’s life and sacrifice has become the subject of myths and legends through the years.
But, who was Eddie Aikau and why did his sacrifice matter? More importantly, what does it even mean when you see on a bumper sticker or hear a person say “Eddie would go”? Let’s take a bit of time and delve into these questions.
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Eddie the family man.
Eddie was born in the year of the dog. This goes a long way to set up how loyal he was to his family, his home and his crew. He was the second of five boys born to the Aikau family on Maui.
The Aikau family comes from an important Hawaiian lineage. The Aikaus were the high priests for King Kamehameha I and King Kamehameha II.
At the age of 16, Eddie moved with his family from Maui to O’ahu. As a result, he dropped out of school to work on the Dole pineapple cannery. It was with the money from this job that he purchased his first surfboard.
According to interviews with his brother, Clyde Aikau, Eddie was a daredevil from a young age. By the age of 21, he had ridden the largest waves ever recorded of O’ahu’s North Shore and marked himself as a legend in surfing.
Eddie the lifeguard and big wave surfer.
It was in 1967 that Eddie rode the largest waves ever recorded on O’ahu’s North Shore. This cemented him in the echelon of legends.
In 1968, Eddie was the first person to become employed as a lifeguard on the North Shore. He was the only lifeguard for all of the North Shore beaches. During his stint as a lifeguard, he saved over 500 people from the massive waves.
MacKinnon Simpson is a maritime historian. He seems to be quoted in every resource there is about Eddie. According to Simpson, the “Eddie would go” catchphrase is something that came about while he was a lifeguard on the North Shore.
The City and County of Honolulu had hired Eddie to oversee all the beaches from Sunset to Hale’iwa. And, he did this with amazing stamina. He was able to go out into waters that others could not or would not navigate, and he saved people’s lives while doing it. Thus, the saying “Eddie would go” was born.
Eddie became Lifeguard of the Year in 1971 due to his amazing feats and fearlessness. He then went on to win the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championship in 1977.
Eddie and the Hōkūle’a.
Folks hear a lot about the Hōkūle’a living here in Hawai’i. The significance of this cultural icon is very important to Hawaiian history and tradition. The Hōkūle’a first embarked on reclaiming Polynesian maritime culture and knowledge in 1975 when the crew sailed from Hawai’i to Tahiti. It took a little over a year with them landing in Tahiti in 1976.
This maiden voyage sparked the imaginations of many local Hawaiians. One such person was Eddie Aikau.
Eddie was invited to join the crew of the Hōkūle’a for its 1978 voyage along with a select group of Hawaiian maritime experts.
According to historians, on March 16, the Hōkūle’a left Magic Island on O’ahu bound for Tahiti. The following day, the canoe developed a leak in its hull approximately 12 miles off the coast of Moloka’i. The canoe capsized. In order to save his crew, Eddie volunteered to paddle his surfboard to Lana’i to bring rescue crews back to the Hōkūle’a.
Unfortunately, once Eddie left his crew, he was never seen again. He had taken off his lifejacket to make paddling his surfboard easier.
According to Hawai’i’s maritime historians, the search for Eddie was the largest air-sea search in Hawai’i’s history. Eddie’s body was never recovered; this was a major blow to the heart of local surfers.
One can imagine the devastation experienced by those who knew and loved Eddie the most.
The creation of The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational.
The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational took place for the first time in 1985, seven years after his disappearance. It was sponsored by Quiksilver.
His brother, Clyde, was invited to compete in 1987 and won.
Since 1985, The Eddie has taken place nine times. Why so few times for a competition this prestigious?
The reason is simple. Ocean waves must consistently be at least 20 feet [front face size] in height. The reason for this requirement is due to the waves on which Eddie secured his legend.
This year holds a great deal of anticipation. The last time the competition was held was in 2016 when John John Florence won and women were not yet allowed to compete.
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This year will mark the first year women will be seen on the big waves for this competition and everyone involved is excited for the new additions.