By Maui Wowi Founder Jill Summerhays
Just about the time we started Maui Wowi in the early 80’s I noticed bumper stickers with the phrase ‘Eddie would go’ on some of the vans parked at the beach. I recently watched the Netflix documentary on Eddie Aikau, who is the Eddie this phrase refers to. For Hawaiian’s, it’s the ultimate proverb of motivation and determination. It is commonly used when a surfer faces a big wave or simply adversity.
Eddie Aikau is one of the greatest surfing legends of all time who began life like a typical Oahu surfer. He grew up surfing the shores of Waikiki and worked endless hours at the Dole Plantation in hopes of purchasing his first real board. Once Eddie mastered the calm waves of Waikiki, he traveled up north to find the bigger and better waves along the island’s North Shore.
In 1967, sixteen years old and unknown on the North Shore, Eddie showed up on a huge wave day at Waimea Bay. He was seen free falling down 40 foot waves with a big smile on his face. He was immediately embraced by the professional surfing prodigies as he dominated every set of waves that day. Photos from this day appeared in Life magazine and unexpectedly, Eddie became a celebrity.
Although it wasn’t intentional, Eddie branded himself. He always used a red surfboard and wore white shorts with a red stripe. This was the way that people knew which surfer was Eddie. They always looked for the red surfboard and white shorts with the red stripe.
Eddie’s occasional trips to the North Shore led him to become a lifeguard there. He was appointed lifeguard of the beaches in Waimea Bay. This was an appropriate role for the big wave surfer as he often swam rescue missions into 30 foot swells. During a nine-year term as protector of the hallowed coastline, he attempted over 500 rescues.
No lives were ever lost on Eddie’s watch. Surfing was a part of Eddie’s life, but Hawaii was his life. Eddie loved Hawaii and felt the land was sacred. He became one of Hawaii’s greatest ambassadors. In 1978, when Eddie was 31 years old, he was invited to participate in a 30 day 2,500-mile historic journey from Hawaii through the Tahitian Island chains. However, the canoe soon developed a leak and later capsized about twelve miles south of the island of Molokai. In an attempt to get help, Eddie begged the captain to let him take his surfboard and paddle toward Lanai. He finally convinced the captain that this was their only hope. His last words were, ‘Don’t worry, I can do it.’ Although the rest of the crew was later rescued by the US Coast Guard just hours after Eddie paddled away, Eddie was never seen again. In an effort to save time he had removed his life jacket since it was hindering his paddling of the surfboard. The ensuing search for Eddie Aikau was the largest air-sea search in Hawaiian history. Only his life jacket and red surfboard were found.
Eddie left behind a legacy that is all about courage and helping others. He will be remembered for these things and for his remarkable surfing ability. “Eddie Would Go” continues to be a phrase used throughout Hawaii and an annual surf competition known as the Quicksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau is held at Waimea Bay in his honor.
For more information on the Eddie Aikau documentary, please visit: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2488386/. It can also be found on Netflix.