About Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau

Eddie Aikau, Eddie Aikau waimea, Eddie Aikau big waves

By Sam George

I got the call from Jeff Divine, the venerable surf photographer and photo editor of The Surfers Journal in San Clemente, California.

“Hey Sam, Jeff said. I was cleaning out my garage, going through some stuff and found something you might be interested in.

Jeff knew that at the time I was producing and directing a documentary film about the life and times of Eddie Aikau, the iconic Hawaiian waterman best known for the namesake big wave event held in his honor at Waimea Bay and the even more iconic bumper sticker Eddie Would Go. Profiling a character like Eddie Aikau was proving to be a challenge, the old adage of when choosing between the truth and the legend, always print the legend

firmly in mind as something not to do here. Aikau, who died in a rescue attempt following the capsizing of the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea in 1978, is one of the best-known, least known figure in surfing history. 28 years of The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau big wave riding event at Waimea has seen to that, as has the ubiquitous bumper sticker. But aside from those sincerely respectful but ultimately promotional acknowledgments, the surfing world knew very little about Eddie Aikau: in the 35 years since his death no major surf publication had ever run an Aikau profile. It was as if the surf media was satisfied with letting Quiks ads and promotional material establish and maintain Eddie’s legacy. The trouble with that was that Quiksilver, however well meaning, couldn’t find much to work with. Apparently only a handful of Aikau images seemed to existover the past two and a half decades the same three or four photos appeared on posters and adswhile very little had been added to the standard narrative. Aikau, the top young Hawaiian big wave rider who became King of the Bay, Waimea’s first lifeguard, and doomed crew member of the Hokulea, which in March of 1978 capsized in heavy seas off Molokai while attempting to sail to Tahiti. That was about all anybody seemed to know about Eddie Aikau all anybody seemed to need to know about Eddie. But if I were really going to bring Eddies story to life, to go beyond the posters and bumper stickers, I’d need more.

Which is why I drove right down to The Surfers Journal office to meet with Jeff Divine, who would not have called me if he had not found something great. And great it was. While cleaning out a old box in his garage Jeff had discovered the contents of the desk hed sat at when working as the photo editor of Surfer Magazine over 20 years ago. One item was a cassette tape that, according to Jeff, had arrived at Surfer in 1976 but had never been listened to. Written on the tape, faded now, were four names: Eddie, Clyde, Kimo, Bradshaw. We scrounged up an old boom box from the warehouse (who has a cassette deck these days?) popped in the old tape and stood back in wonder. Here was Eddie Aikau and Clyde Aikau, being interviewed by equally legendary Hawaiian big wave rider Kimo Hollinger (with assistance from a young Ken Bradshaw) about the upcoming 1976 North Shore pro season. Most notably what the Hawaiian reception would be like for the returning Aussie pros like Rabbit Bartholomew and Ian Cairns, who, following their triumphant performances the previous winter, were the current media darlings.

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About jw60sea

Jim Caldwell has over 26 years of experience in the public safety sector in occupations ranging from professional ski patrol, and ocean lifeguard to firefighter. Jim has worked for the Redondo Beach Fire Department for the last 22 years holding successively higher positions of responsibility. For the last six years, Jim has held the rank of Engineer with responsibility for driving and operating the Department’s Engines and Tillered Aerial Ladder Truck. Throughout his career, he has shown a dedication not only to public safety but also community service.
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