Eddie Would Go is a bumper sticker with levels.
At a first glance, it refers to a the big wave invitational event The Eddie, held in legendary Hawaiian waterman Eddie Aikau (pronounced i-cow) ‘s name; the ultimate big wave event held only when conditions are 20-25ft plus Hawaiian at Waimea Bay.
But beyond that, it represents something with much deeper cultural significance than just a surf contest.
The fact that The Eddie rarely runs adds further caché to the most prestigious surf competition in the world. Run by the Aikau family, the 24 surfers invited to compete make up an elite list of highly respected chargers from Hawaii and overseas.
But who exactly was Eddie? And why does he have a big wave comp named after him?
Born Edward Ryon Makuahanai Aikau on May 4, 1946 on Maui, the Aikaus moved to Oahu in 1959, where Eddie he saved up to buy his first surfboard by working the Dole pineapple cannery.
After impressing the big wave elite surfing Waimea in ’67, the following year Eddie started working as the first lifeguard at Waimea Bay, where he would go on to perform over 500 rescues, all successful.
Long before the time of PWC assists and modern equipment, Eddie swimming skills in heavy water were unrivalled.
“Aikau was a legend on the North Shore, pulling people out of waves that no one else would dare to. That’s where the saying came from — Eddie would go, when no else would or could. Only Eddie dared.” says maritime historian Mac Simpson.
Eddie won the Duke Invitational event in ’77, and placed highly in several other events in the 70’s. His striped trunks and classic island stance made for iconic images of a Hawaiian waterman in full flow.
On land, Eddie was known as an ambassador for the sport, promoting the Hawaiian islands and Hawaiian surfing as something to be shared with outsiders.
The ambassadorial role the Aikau family represented came to the fore in the winter of ’77 when the Hawaiian family intervened to stop the trouble the Free Ride surfers had got themselves into with Da Hui, after disrespecting the Hawaiian hierarchy.
In 1978, the Polynesian Voyaging Society set off on a second voyage recreating the discovery of Hawaii by the ancient Polynesians who sailed there from what is now French Polynesia using traditional wayfaring navigation, (the first being undertaken in 1976) on a double hulled sailing canoe called the Hokule’a.
Just five hours after leaving Honolulu’s Ala Wai Harbour, Hokule’a was swamped by high winds and seas SW of Molokai and capsized. The crew clung on to the upturned vessel through the night, but when flares went unseen and radio distress signals unanswered, by mid morning the next day Eddie attempted to paddle his surfboard 12-15 miles to the island of Lanai to raise help.
That evening, flares were eventually seen by a passing Hawaiian Airlines flight that circled the wreck while the coast guard launched a rescue, and all crew were recovered by helicopter.
Despite the subsequent largest search and rescue effort in Hawaiian history, Aikau’s body was never found.
These days, aside from being synonymous with the event, Eddie Would Go represents a spirit of bravado when faced with heavy ocean conditions, a particular Hawaiian ability to have fun in life threatening-surf, as well as the bravery of lifeguards and first responders who risk their own lives to help others.
Big wave surfing has proliferated to every continent around the world, and there are numerous chargers everywhere, brave men and women who tackle impossibly huge waves, every time they break.
But there’ll only ever be one Eddie Aikau.
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