“A fringe niche sport coupled with a mostly unknown individual and a tragic ending had me very skeptical,” writes Ben Koo at AwfulAnnouncing.com, about ESPN’s 30 for 30 series season starter “Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau.” Turns out Koo hit upon the very reasons his skepticism was misplaced: the film works mainly because Aikau comes fresh to most viewers, while the big pop culture baggage surfing carries is subtly stripped away by director Sam George. What the astonishingly courageous Aikau practiced in the 1970’s had little to do with the Beach Boys’ boppy bailiwick–though there are certainly beautiful harmonies in both. Aikau, today best known for risking his life in towering surf, was really foremost a life saver. He was the first life guard hired by Honolulu to protect beachgoers on the North Shore. It was there among the iconic walls of water that his fearlessness became legend, as much for risky rescues as for surfing the big waves.
In what’s sure to become misappropriated–after the ESPN program–as a daring provocation to imbecility among college-age men, the refrain of Aikau’s legend lives on in the phrase “Eddie Would Go.” Lionized among surfers as a man of powerful character, Aikau inspired a kind of competitive courage in others, who even today measure degree of difficulty against the presumed actions of this hero of the North Shore. Too dangerous? “Eddie Would Go,” comes the reply. A prestigious surfing competition sponsored by Quicksilver and named “The Eddie” is one of the more unusual big time sporting events of our age, since it is cancelled as often as not. If the waves fail to climb above 30 feet there’s no contest. That’s a beautiful thing. If nature says no game today, then no game–big wave surfers have enough respect for nature to let her dictate the schedule. Aikau died paddling a canoe to Tahiti in 1978. A non-profit research group had needed volunteers to retrace an ancient Polynesian migration route. Somebody said they thought that Eddie would, well, you know.