30 for 30 (2009–…): Season 2, Episode 9 - Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau - full transcript

Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau chronicles the remarkable life and times of the late Eddie Aikau, the legendary Hawaiian big wave surfer, pioneering lifeguard and ultimately doomed crew member of the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea. With its rich combination of archival imagery, dramatic reenactments, contemporary interviews and meticulously researched historical source material Hawaiian is a compelling examination of the tragic decline and extraordinary rebirth of the Hawaiian culture as personified by a native son whose dynamic life and heroic death served as inspiration to an entire spiritual movement.

Did Eddie Aikau have a choice
to live a long, uneventful life,

or live a short life, but have
his name live in eternity?

I don't think he thought of

I don't think anybody thought of

But I do think it was his fate.

Unlike most heroes, Eddie's
story begins in a graveyard.

Edward Ryon Makuahanai Aikau was
only 12 years old when his

parents closed up their shack at
Maui's raw-fish camp and moved

their entire clan to the island
of Oahu.

In what was then known as the
U.S. territory of Hawaii,

Solomon and Henrietta Aikau were
simply looking for a place their

family could call home.

In early '59, my dad swung a
deal with the Chinese Association.

It's a nine-acre property where
all of us could live in the

cemetery for rent-free as long
as we maintained the nine acres.

It was a real sign of the
times... a native Hawaiian

family having nowhere else to
settle but a Chinese graveyard.

Yet for the Aikaus, this turned
out to be a stroke of luck.

Raising all the Aikau kids would
require lots of room.

Six children, you know, and
we were like, you know, all one

year apart.

I'm the youngest.

And then there comes Solomon and
then Gerald and then Eddie and

then Myra and then my oldest
brother, Fred.

Our family was a real Hawaiian
"Ohana" family because everything

we did, we did together.

Mom and dad made it work, but
it was very difficult.

Me and Eddie used to go down
to the docks and dive for coins.

We would yell at the tourists,
who's standing on the balcony of

the Lurline, "Coin a dive, sir?
Coin a dive?"

They'd throw the coin, and we
would dive and just catch it.

And then you think about
being poor.

Those are really hard times.
But we made it work, you know?

I mean, we had our little
graveyard that we'd take care

of, and that was our domain.

You know, what went outside the
graveyard was outside the graveyard.

All I remember is this, is
that when I went to sell

newspapers, the headline was
"Statehood," and I sold a

million papers that day, and I
didn't understand anything of it.

Now, for much of the society
in Hawaii, statehood offered all

kinds of new opportunities,
especially political opportunities.

Opportunity to elect a governor,
commercial opportunities,

especially through tourism.

Statehood had kicked in.

Pan American Airlines was
bringing in tourists in by the truckloads.

Hotels were being built on
Waikiki beach 'cause you have to

give tourists the beach, the
coconut trees, the luau deal, right?

And, really, there were many,
many Hawaiians who were still

trying to live traditional kinds
of subsistence lifestyles close

to the ocean.

Those are the ones who find
themselves being marginalized in

the late 1950s and 1960s by this new
this sort of new wave of development.

Hawaiians are the ones that are
being shoved aside to make room

for new hotels going up.

Hawaiians will be brought back
in as tour guides, as dancers,

as musicians, but it's not the
identity we choose for ourselves.

Even in the 1960s as kids,
walking on the beach, watching

the luaus and the music...

Us kids was not wanted, you

We weren't wanted on Waikiki
property, you know?

And... I
think that is what really,

really hurts, so anyway...

So you can imagine kind of
the sentiment for native

Hawaiians in the sense of
injustice and also that sense of

cultural inferiority.

And so, while things were sort
of difficult for them on land,

it was only natural for them, I
think, to, you know, revert to the ocean.

Being in the water, for us,
was everything.

In the 1960s, Walls was like the
water-sports arena for all local


And Eddie and I didn't really
bond until we started to do the

paipo boarding at Walls.

And a paipo board, if you don't
know, is about the size of a

boogie board, but it's made out
of plywood.

I mean, out of all the families,
there has to be the one king of

the Walls, and Eddie became the
king of the Walls very quickly.

I mean, Eddie, man, you know...
I mean, you're talking 3/4-inch

and standing on it and actually
ripping on it, you know, bottom

turns off the lip even then.

It wasn't competitive.

Eddie did that not because he
was trying to be the best guy

out there or he was trying to show
off or he was trying to do this or that.

You know, that's just the way it

So, 1960, '61, finally, we
walked up towards the

Royal Hawaiian Hotel and
the Moana Surfrider, and we

discovered surfboards.

It's funny how I can remember my
first wave, just going so fast

and watching the water move by
so quickly.

After that, oh, man, you were

The love of riding waves was
more intense for me and Eddie as

for my other brothers.

I drifted off doing other stuff.

Gerry went to Vietnam.

And so that just left those two.

Surfing made us feel like kings.

14-year-old Eddie was content
riding the gentle waves of

Waikiki with his brother Clyde,
but by 16, Eddie had already

begun to set his sights on
bigger things, much bigger.

Eddie and I, in the early
'60s, used to go to Waikiki

Shell, and Bud Browne used to
bring in those first surf movies.

And those first movies was
flashing Greg Noll, Waimea Bay,

Sammy Lee, Waimea Bay,
Mike Stang, Waimea Bay, and

there wasn't a big pool of
Hawaiians surfing big waves.

The big waves at Makaha, on
Oahu's west side, had been

pioneered years before by island
surfers like the legendary

George Downing, but Oahu's
northern shore, home to the

island's most consistent giant
surf, was being laid claim to by

haoles... a term Hawaiians use
to describe all foreigners.

Really, the first couple
three years there, there was

just California guys.

And, man, when you went to the
north shore during that first

winter, it was as close as you
could get to... you know, I

don't mean to get corny or
nothing, but it was kind of like

going to, you know, some South
Sea island.

And since the Hawaiians were
in Waikiki and concentrated in

Makaha, there was plenty of
waves to go around, no crowd,

and so why worry?

Californians came over and we
were more likely to be

adventurous, to look around, and
to venture to the north shore.

And that's why the north
shore ends up looking like

something that had been sort of
pioneered and conquered and

mapped out by the visiting
haole surfers.

And I think that explains part
of why there's sort of this

discrepancy about why you're
seeing a lot of white surfers in

all that early surf media.

So, the Hawaiians that was
surfing like Kealoha Kaio and

Kimo Hollinger, you know, those
guys being Hawaiian, Eddie and I

really looked up to, more so

His need to ride waves is what
actually pulled him out of school.

He made it all the way up to the
11th grade and he came home and

he told Pops, "Pops, you know,
I'm really trying my best, Pops,

but I cannot sit in the
classroom anymore."

My dad understood that, and he
told my brother Eddie, "if you

cannot sit in the classroom,
then you need to go out and get a job."

So Eddie went out and got a job
at Dole Cannery working

nighttime, making pineapple

So he would work night, and then
in the morning, right from work,

he'd hit the north shore and
he'd surf all day.

Eddie's work ethic paid off
in the big surf, as well as the

pineapple factory.

It wasn't long before Eddie was
pegged as the top young Hawaiian

in the north shore lineups,
which is why most felt Eddie was

sure to get a spot in the first
surf contest ever held on the north shore.

First run in 1965, the Duke was
an invitation-only big-wave

riding event held at the north
shore's Sunset Beach.

The Duke contest was the best
event of its day.

They had the embossed
invitations and all the surfers

were put up in a beach-front
hotel in Waikiki and treated

really well.

With no prize money at stake,
the contest prestige was all in

the name... Duke Kahanamoku.

The widely acknowledged father
of modern surfing and three-time

Olympic swimming champion, Duke
was as close to Hawaiian royalty

as you could get.

As a Hawaiian, just to be in
the presence of the Duke was

like a big deal, especially
for my brother Eddie because he

revered Duke Kahanamoku as the
all-time great waterman that he was.

In 1965, they have the first
Duke invitational competition.

One of the things that really
lights Eddie's fire is he's not invited.

Neither is any other Hawaiian.
I think there may have been one.

It's like the surfing event
was invented by the haoles, I

guess, and it was kind of run by
the haoles.

The Duke's invitation list may
have seemed upside down.

Hawaiian surfers were used to
having to fight for a place in

their own waves.

From the moment of first contact
in the 18th century, the

arriving haoles... European
explorers, merchant men, and

even missionaries... were
fascinated with Hawaii's wave

riders, very obviously impressed
by the islanders' passion for

their favorite sport.

It was a passion that, against
all odds, endured.

By the end of the next century,
100 years of contact with the

outside world had wiped out
almost all vestiges of the

Hawaiian culture... all except

Essentially, Hawaii was taken
illegally at the turn of the century.

You have this group of guys, you
know, the Committee of Safety,

who overthrow the queen and said
they were taking over.

It was a simple political coup.

The United States participated
in it because the Committee of

Safety wanted political power
and possibly annexation to the

United States.

And the kingdom didn't stand a

Sugar was a big business in
Hawaii, and the primary business

guys, they saw it in their best
interests for Hawaii to become

part of the United States.

But on a deeper level, it
wasn't just economics.

A lot of these men believed that
no country, really, could govern

itself unless it had a high
degree of Teutonic people in

charge... Aryans, white people.

But what's fascinating is
that the same key players who

were involved with this
overthrow of Hawaii's kingdom

join this surf club in Waikiki.

And all of a sudden, this new
club pops up, and in the front

it says, "for whites only."

And you have these same players
who were involved with this

overthrow that are now in this
surf club, learning to surf, and

going out into the surf, and
going head-to-head with, in many

ways, the same Hawaiians that
were involved, but the outcome

is actually quite different than
what happened on land.

In the end, these Hawaiian
surfers assert themselves and

remain on top, and they sort of
maintain their space and their

chiefly roles in the Hawaiian
waves, and it's precisely

because of this history of them
resisting colonialism in the

surf that you have unique
identities and a sense of

sovereignty, I think, and
autonomy that accompanies these

guys when they're in the waves.

And that's what makes, I think,
the surf zone a very unique thing.

Surfing becomes a place where
you could still be Hawaiian.

In that first Duke Invitational,
Eddie Aikau and Ben Aipa paddled

out and just sort of surfed as a
way of saying, "Hey, look at us.

We can compete here."

And that's something that
Eddie and I, we talked a lot about.

At the time, you know, we were
rushing, we were charging.

It didn't matter if we got

It was trying to make a

Duke Kahanamoku was like,
"Hey, why not invite these guys?"

And the very next year, they

The finalists have been chosen.

Two of them are Eddie Aikau and
Ben Aipa. Eddie.

Eddie, yeah, Eddie, you're
looking good.

You weren't in here last year,
but this year, you are, right?

Yes, I think the contest this
year is very difficult and

tough to pick the winners
'cause everybody is so good and

everybody was doing well and
performing great.

That's Eddie Aikau.

He's probably the best of the
younger Hawaiians.

Nice wave.

Eddie doing a spinner.

You won't see too much of that
today because of the size of the waves.

Doesn't leave much room for

I think the proudest man at the
contest is Eddie's father who

has been standing on the beach,
beaming like a neon sign every

time Eddie gets a great ride.

First place goes to Ricky Grigg
of California.

Eddie finished sixth in the
1966 Duke, making him the

highest-placing Hawaiian, and it
was hard to tell who was

happier... Eddie or the Duke.

A lot of Californians
envisioned themselves as the

inheritors of this ancient
Hawaiian tradition, but they

came to Hawaii and found out
that, hey, there's actually real

Hawaiians and they still surf,
and you know what?

They surf really good.

And this is Eddie's story.

Eddie had made his statement
at Sunset Beach, but every

surfer knew that if they really
wanted to join the big-wave

club, there was only one wave
that mattered... Waimea Bay on

Oahu's north shore, a wave that
only a few years before was

thought to be impossible, just
too big, too scary to ride.

Surfers watched for over
10 years before first

challenging its peak in 1957.

And it just went downhill from

Now this fearsome wave would
give Eddie Aikau the chance he

was looking for.

Waimea Bay in 1967, November
19th, the word was Waimea Bay

was maxing out at 40 feet.

It was about, like, say
10 feet, 15 feet, 20 feet, it

just kind of started getting
bigger and bigger.

I cut out of school, caught
the bus out, and I was rounding

the corner on the very top
there, just in time to see Eddie

take off on a 40-foot wave,
free fell about 20 feet down,

and had the worst wipe out I'd
ever seen.

No leashes those days, folks.
So Eddie swam in and picked up

his board in the riptide, went
back out.

And we didn't really know that
even the big-wave riders who

were riding 10 years before
Eddie, that day was probably the

biggest day they also ever rode.

All you know is that he's out

there with the best in the

And Eddie's just ripping the
place apart.

He was just the brightest
star out there.

I tell you, Eddie didn't take
off where everybody else took off.

He took off deeper.

It wasn't just that he went
out and surfed for longer and

better than anybody else out

He also paddled out on that
beautiful red surfboard, and he

had those white trunks with the
red stripe.

And, yeah, you know, after
you're seeing 25 white-skinned

guys drop down these huge waves
to see this dark-skinned guy

with the white trunks and the
red surfboard, it just jumped

out at you.

And there's one famous
picture, and he's hung up on the

top of the lip of a Waimea wave.

The peak's in front of him.

Eddie had an ability to take off
and, you know, penetrate the wave.

He would plant his back leg,
and he would just crank the back

of the board and carve it into
the face and throw his arm out

and just take over the power of
the wave.

And he would just chew it up.

In a situation where every
other surfer in the world would

have either jumped off or at the
very least tensed up, he just

seemed like he couldn't have
been any more at ease on these

gigantic waves.

He looked like the perfect
big-wave surfer.

Thinking back, that 1967 day,
we didn't really realize what

Eddie had accomplished, and then
all the photos show up, and it's

just... I mean, as kids then,
you can't even fathom that this

is Eddie in these pictures.

The media started calling the
house, and they wanted

interviews with Eddie about that

And, you know, it's just
tremendous on how one day can

actually change your whole life.

Eddie, do you ever worry
about getting hurt out there on

these huge surfs that we have
here at Waimea Bay?


In fact, last year, I almost
lost my life because of riding Waimea Bay.

And anybody that rides
Waimea Bay knows that you're

only taking a chance, and I
guess you got to be lucky, too,

and just know what you're doing,
I guess.

Waimea Bay was such a
dangerous place that, you know,

lifeguards weren't even
stationed there.

So dangerous for those who find
out when they're in trouble that

they ain't got a chance on their

Lord knows we needed lifeguards.

I mean, there was so many
drownings at one point.

In 1967, the honorable mayor
Frank Fasi was looking for an

experienced waterman to be the
first lifeguard at Waimea Bay.

Everybody else knew Eddie was
the guy to hire.

He was surfing one of the
biggest days at Waimea Bay, and

he was already making rescues on
his own.

The only challenge Eddie had was
not graduating from high school.

I was only learning about how
difficult it was for him to get

this job, which normally
required a high-school education.

You need to understand my
family Hawaiian heritage.

200 years ago, King Kamehameha
entrusted Waimea Valley, Waimea

Beach, and Waimea Bay to my
great-great grandfather,

Kahuna Nui Hewahewa.

200 years ago.

We're talking about destiny

He was the man for this bay,
and that's what he showed,

you know, the heads of the city and
county and the lifeguard

division, but he had to go
through a lot of hoops to get there.

In 1967, Eddie Aikau becomes
the first lifeguard at Waimea Bay.

Soldiers were coming back from
Vietnam on an R&R two-week vacation.

Every single one of them ended
up at Waimea Bay, and when they

came down, they came down with
their coolers full with beer,

and they'd suck them up, and
Eddie would have to save the

same guy about three or four

You know, back with Eddie,
there was no wavering.

It was either yes or no, and
most times it was yes... Run in,

go get them, bring them out.

I mean, he cared.

He cared about the silly
tourist in the shore break at Waimea.

He wanted people to enjoy and
love Hawaii... he did.

And that was a unique thing
about him.

The protector, that was a
role he picked for himself, and

he was good at it.

He actually was very good at it.

He attempted over 500
rescues in Waimea Bay, and his

record... he lost zero.

I don't think anybody on the
planet has that record.

Waimea was his beach, his
bay, and it was so dangerous at times.

It was his goal in life to make
sure that everybody who came to

this beach went home safely to
their families.

The Hawaiian word for
"family" is ohana.

And in the summer of 1970, a
young woman from Seattle would

learn its true meaning.

My girlfriend and I were
coming here for our first time, actually.

We had never been to Hawaii, no

We had actually met Eddie at the

It'll be fun. "He says" You've never
been to Hawaii, we're going to show

you how to do it the right way."

I had no idea about the surfing
fame, but we got a chance to

really talk and get to know each
other, and we spent a lot of time.

And later I realized that I'm

probably sure that many women

probably said, "Oh, I'll be

I don't know how many of them
actually did except I did come back.

Came on June vacation.

Came back in September, and then
we were married the next May.

It hadn't even been a year.

He wanted to get married so

It was just kind of like "Wow,"
you know?

But what really helped me was
because his family was so welcoming.

They were so much, you know,
"Come, we'll take care of you.

We'll show you what we show
people who become part of our

ohana," and that's what I
really learned... that Eddie

cared so much about his family.

It was really his number-one
thing in his whole life.

Vietnam actually changed my
brother Gerald, you know?

Like how Vietnam changed a lot
of lives.

When Gerald came back, he wasn't
the same guy, you know?

When he... when he went to
Vietnam, he was a nice, mellow

guy, handsome guy, had all the

When he came back, he was a
different guy.

I don't know what war does to
people, but it wasn't good

because he was very nasty.

But it wasn't his fault, you

Eddie and Gerald kind of got
into a small kind of spat.

There was some words said.

A couple days later, I was
graduating from the University of Hawaii.

It was a happy moment.

We had kind of like a small
celebration party, and after

that, Gerald drives back out to
the north shore.

His friend is driving, and his
friend falls asleep.

The Volkswagen hits a pole.

My brother dies.

The whole Aikau family is just turned
upside down, but Eddie is devastated.

I would wake up, and he would
be gone.

At midnight, Eddie would go
walking up to

Punchbowl Cemetery, and he would
go over the iron gates.

And when they opened up the
gates in the morning, there he'd

be, sleeping on his brother's

I think Eddie felt like he
didn't have a chance to tell

Gerald that he really loved
Gerald no matter what... you

know, no matter what happened in
Vietnam, no matter what.

It really was the most
devastating thing that ever

happened to him, and no matter
how much I tried to get through

that depression, we couldn't
really talk about it.

I couldn't get him to express

I did leave eventually, and I
guess because there was a wall

between us, and that wall was

And I didn't know how to get
over it, and I didn't know how

to get him over it.

For Eddie, the ocean was a
spiritual place for him.

It's where he went for peace.

And I think... really, I think
the thing that really brought

him out of that deep, depressing
hole that he had fallen into was the ocean.

You know, when he surfed, it was
about that connection.

He wasn't competing with the

He was trying to become part of
it, to be one with it, and to

feel that power, or here in
Hawaii, they say the mana.

He wanted to feel that.

Hawaiians, just genetically,
they're more in tune with the

ocean, I think, then haoles are.

I think all those, you know,
hundreds of years that they

spent being in and around and a
part of the ocean, they just

have a little something we don't

Though there were a lot of
cultures that lived on seashores

down through the millenniums of
human history, only the ancient

Hawaiians developed the art of
riding waves for pleasure, and

if you really think about it,
that's pretty profound because

most cultures feared the ocean,
certainly feared the waves.

But the Hawaiians saw pleasure,
and they developed this kinship

with the ocean and the

It was Hawaiians living and
practicing their culture.

Eddie is a part of that
tradition of Hawaiian surfing

that threads all the way back to
ancient days.

The way that he's able to
understand his culture is how he

knows best, and it's through the

Like so many of his island
forebears, Eddie found that a

Hawaiian's place was in the
surf, but he wouldn't be there alone.

By the early 1970s, competition in the
Hawaiian waves was really heating up.

It was almost a little
circuit of events on the

north shore starting in the
early '70s.

The Duke had been there and then
the Pipeline Masters and then

Hang Ten, the Smirnoff pro.

The north shore of Hawaii just
came to define surfing, at least

in terms of how it was presented
in the media.

Of that group, a handful of
Hawaiian surfers at that time

were so good that they just
sucked all the oxygen out of the room.

They were the only ones that

In the surf movies and
magazines, Hawaiians appeared to

be back on top, but at the time,
the label "Hawaiian" tended to

refer more to a zip code than a

Hawaii's most successful
competitor was California

transplant and three-time Duke
Invitational winner

Jeff Hakman.

I moved to Hawaii when I was
like 12 or 13 or something.

I definitely knew that I was not
from Hawaii, but it never

occurred to me that
I was like... A haole.

It didn't seem to occur to
anyone else either.

By the winter season of 1973, no
native Hawaiian had ever won a

major pro surfing event on the
north shore.

Though not often thought of as a
competitive force, judged by his

record, Eddie was the obvious
guy to end that drought.

From 1967 to 1973, Eddie was the
most consistent native Hawaiian

competitor, placing in almost
every big pro contest, but a

win, especially at the contest
that mattered most to Hawaiians,

always seemed just out of reach.

For Eddie, winning the
prestigious Duke Kahanamoku

contest... This was his big...
big dream, and he would either

come in second, third, and he
wanted that really bad.

Headed into the '73 Duke,
Eddie was more determined than

ever, yet this time he would
find himself going up against

not only a familiar rival but a
familiar face.

Clyde, the youngest Aikau, had
followed his big brother into

the big waves, earning his own
reputation for gutsy

performances in heavy

In '73, Clyde would join Eddie
in the Duke for the first time.

How do you feel about
competing against your brother?

I try to stay out of my
brother's way in the contest.

Like, we talk it over before we
go out in competition, and we

try not to jeopardize or get in
the way of each other.

If I don't win it, I would
like my brother to win it.

An Aikau had finally won the
Duke, but it was Clyde, and he

had won it the first time the
contest was held at Waimea Bay.

I think Eddie kind of felt
bummed out, you know?

But he never mentioned anything
about, "Aw, well, Clyde, you

took the win, and I should have

You know, the year I won the
Duke, I think it was 20 feet,

but he and I and everybody else
knew that if the waves were

macking out at 30-feet over,
Eddie would have been the man to beat.

In the mid 1970s, a wave of
change swept over the north

shore, a radical new style of
surfing had begun to push

big-wave heroics off the center

The surfers pushing the hardest
were a crew of young

Australians who were determined
to break into the top ranks at any cost.

I was definitely gonna try
and go for the radical days and

try to make a name for myself in
a short period of time.

Eddie's surfing was very
different to the progressive

surfing of the hot Australians.

His surfing was really from like
another generation, a very

regal, upright approach.

He was kind of old-school.

I think deep down, Eddie
might have had a complex where

he felt like he wasn't good
enough, really, and that's what

he always fought.

His demon was like, "I'll prove
it to these guys.

They're wrong. I'm good.
I'm one of the best."

Eddie may have been one of
the best in his home waters, but

holding that line was getting
more and more difficult.

At the time, Eddie was 29 years
old, ancient for a competitive

surfer and still working
full-time in the tower at

Waimea Bay, and in 1975, Eddie
again had to watch from the sand

as somebody else won a major
event at his beach.

It was 20-foot, 20-foot solid
Waimea Bay, and we're all in

this final together.

And Mark won it, LAN got second,
and I got third, and it was like "Wow."

It definitely changed things.

You know, we were suddenly... We
had arrived.

The Australians have always
had huge egos, and once they won

some of the contests here, their
egos just got out of place.

Rabbit and LAN sort of beat
their chests the hardest and

said... LAN famously said,
"We're number one!"

Rabbit with the "Bustin' Down
the Door" article just looking

every bit the conquering hero.

They knew the more drama they
could play out, the more famous

they'd become at home, and they
were willing to push the buttons

and make all the negative
statements about Hawaii, Hawaiians.

You go into a place like the
north shore and say, "Look at

me! Look at me! Look at me!"

long enough, and they're gonna
look at you in ways that you

might not be so happy with.

You know, I was surfing
Sunset Beach, and I just

remember looking in and I saw
this big row of like Hawaiians

on the shore, and then they just
came out and beat the shit out of me.

We were isolated.
We were banished.

We weren't allowed to surf.
We weren't allowed to train.

We weren't allowed to go on the
north shore.

We weren't allowed to leave.

And then, finally, really, it
didn't feel like we should leave

our condominium.

The knock came at the door, and
we weren't getting visitors at

the time, and so all we had was
tennis rackets, and I remember

just standing there and LAN was
behind me, and I was standing like that.

And we opened the door, and it
was Eddie Aikau.

And, you know, he started
talking to us.

He said, "This has gone way
beyond the north shore."

He said, "There's some
super-heavy people coming for

you," and he said, "There's a
contract on your life."

He's here to intervene, and he
took us out of the house and

said, "You come with me."

It was the most surreal thing
because we went into a

conference room in the
Turtle Bay Hilton.

It was filled with people.

You can call it a meeting.

You can call it a trial.

There's nothing he could say
that could defend himself from

the Hawaiian's point of view.

There was a lot of anger in
the room, and, you know, at this

point, I'm completely reliant on
Eddie Aikau to control this mob.

It was all up to Eddie.

Eddie was everything in my life
at that point.

I was that ignorant that I
actually did not know why I was

in so much trouble, and Eddie
started talking to us.

For me, the lessons began.

I was understanding why they
were angry.

The Hawaiians had lost their
land, and surfing was one of the

last bastions of their culture,
and most definitely on the

north shore, and that's what we
had taken.

And I felt like, you know, I
wanted to atone because I felt

that this wasn't me.

I wasn't that person, and I did
have a lot of respect.

Eddie finally sensed that it had
reached this point where he

could make a judgment on behalf
of his people, and he made his

judgment that we'd shown
contrition and that he felt that

we had learned our lesson.

And he said, you know, that we
would be able to compete in the meets.

Him putting his neck out on
the line to kind of calm these

things... you know, had it been
some other random surfer guy, I

don't think they would have

I don't think anyone else
could have been the peacemaker

like he was... I really don't.

I just think he was the guy that
had the gravitas to do that, and

everyone would respect it.

Eddie stepped in and did that
and kind of saved that important

really early year for
professional surfing.

You know, what would have
happened if Eddie hadn't stepped in?

What would have happened if one
of those guys had gotten killed?

It could either explode with
unbelievable repercussions, or

we could have the beginning of a
truly global surfing community.

Only weeks after the meeting,
this surfing brotherhood would

be put to the test.

It would either sink or swim at
the next big pro contest, taking

place in December of 1977.

I'm Jim Lampley along with
Fred Hemmings at the

Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Classic.

Eddie Aikau was the oldest
competitor in the water, surfing

in what was probably his last

And now Eddie Aikau, a
Hawaiian, up on one of the big ones.

Like in so many years past,
Eddie surfed his way to the

final, but to win, he'd have to
get past a heat full of

younger guns, including
Rabbit Bartholomew.

I felt really, really
privileged to be in that final

with him, and, you know, Eddie
was super, super focused.

Now here's Eddie Aikau again.

Oh, beautiful wave!
Look at this!

Beautiful, beautiful ride.

Eddie Aikau picked another big

He's playing the waiting game.

He's waiting for the bigger
waves, and it's paying off for him.

Now here comes Eddie Aikau.

On the outside.

We said earlier, Eddie's been
around a long time.

He's got great judgment.
He's waiting on the outside.

He's getting the big waves.
And here he is again.

Look at this tube ride!

Fantastic! Eddie Aikau picked a beautiful
one, there.

That's gonna make a big
difference in the scoring.

That was the best tube ride of
the competition so far.

Eddie rode that thing like a
virtuoso playing a Stradivarius violin.

It was just absolute perfection,
and he won the contest.

So, you hear the cheers of
native Hawaiians for their man,

Eddie Aikau.

I remember feeling, like,
really pure happiness for the

guy, that, you know, he'd won
the most important event to him.

I would like to dedicate my
win to my brother Gerry and my family.

I love them.

And I did it for all the
Hawaiians, man, all for the Hawaiians.


When you have a guy like
Eddie, you're always really

looking for the next challenge
or the next adventure.

Eddie had already surfed the
biggest waves in the world, was

the first lifeguard at
Waimea bay, Eddie won his dream

contest, but even more than
that, as Eddie was getting

older, he wanted to immerse
himself in being Hawaiian, as

far as the spirit and the
culture, and I think the

Hokule'a was it.

Only 61 feet long, based on
no written plans or even

pictures, the tiny Hokule'a was
the flagship of the

Polynesian Voyaging Society,
founded in 1973 in hopes of

reviving the heartbeat of an
almost forgotten Hawaiian culture.

Hokule'a was a conduit for hope.

It was a conduit for healing.

It goes back to the crushing of
the native Hawaiian people in

the last 200 years.

Hawaiian culture and language
was pretty much, by policy,

outlawed in public schools in

And most schools in Hawaii
clearly understood, "Don't teach

It has no value."

And you have that stereotype
all native Hawaiians are stupid,

lazy, all that kind of stuff.

I mean, you say it long enough,
you're gonna believe it, and

then you become it.

This enduring stereotype led
academics to come up with a

dismissive theory as to how
Polynesian voyagers first

reached the Hawaiian islands.

They thought that Polynesians
weren't great sailors, that they

settled their islands by
accident 'cause their canoes

weren't good enough, and their
navigation system accurate

enough to purposely explore and
settle Polynesia.

That needed to be shattered.

And I think Hokule'a all of a
sudden was having the

possibility to do that.

The voyaging society's
mission was a bold one... to

sail Hokule'a to Tahiti and
back... a voyage of over 5,000 miles.

And she would cover the distance
exactly like the first

Polynesians did... navigating
solely by the stars, the wind,

and the waves.

One would argue that that
canoe that landed on this sand

in Hawaii that brought the first
of human kind to these islands

could've been the greatest
voyage of humankind, and that

starts to shift how you start to
think about who you are by

knowing who you were and knowing
where you come from.

We aren't just the servants
of tourists.

We're not just hula dancers,
smiling and loving to dance for you.

We're an angry people.
We're a warrior people.

But there is no countervailing
discourse, really, until the 1970s.

And then you start to get it.
You get it in the protest movements.

You get it right in the building
of the Hokule'a and the

daring... the daring act of
sailing into the open ocean.

Eddie was one of literally
2,000 or 3,000 Hawaiians

determined to go on the
Hokule'a, and I think they only

take about 11 people.

My first time I met him was
in just kind of a getting

together of the candidates who
were gonna be possibly on this

voyage to Tahiti.

Eddie turns around, not yelling
but forcibly going, "You know,

Nainoa, I need to sail on

I need to go down the road of my
ancestors, and I need to pull

Tahiti out of the sea.

Even after, you know, we had
separated, he would come to

where I was living and sit and
talk with me about what was

happening and the training and
how he...

Really, I could see the joy, and
I was grateful though afraid

because this was a very dangerous
journey that they were gonna go on.

After months of grueling tryouts,
Hokule'a's crew was finally announced.

At the top of the list,
Eddie Aikau.

We were gathered in this
room, and we're all kind of

sitting there, and Eddie gets up
in front of all of us.

He just puts his chair up in
front of all of us, and he says,

"You know, you guys, we've been
training together, and I wrote

this song, and I wrote it for
you guys.

♪ Hawaii's pride, she sails with
the wind ♪

♪ And proud are we to see her
sail free ♪

♪ Feelings deep and so strong ♪

♪ For Hoku, Hokule'a ♪

♪ For Hoku, Hokule'a ♪

♪ Stars that shine to guide her
straight path ♪

♪ Across the sea, down to
Tahiti ♪

♪ Then back to Hawaii she
sails ♪

♪ For Hoku, Hokule'a ♪

♪ For Hoku, Hokule'a ♪

All of us was there, and I
Just hugged him and said,

"Goodbye and have a nice trip
and be safe," and all of that.

And to see the Hokule'a going,
it was a very bad day... windy day.

It was a horrible day.

In all of our training for
the '78 voyage, we never had any wind.

I mean, really.

I mean, like, I'm such a rookie, I figure,
"if we're going, we're going, right?"

So I never did say, "Wow!
Kind of windy, huh?"

Why the Hokule'a left the dock?

Well, there was 2,000 people
that came down to say aloha.

And the mayor was there, the
bands were playing.

I mean, it was time to go.

And they were saying, "Hey,

"Let's postpone this," and
everyone's saying, "Nah, I don't

think we can do that."

So, "Okay. Aloha."
They're on their way.

And they sailed right into a

You know, once we're off of
the, you know, Diamond Head,

we're in the Kaiwi Channel, and
she's just going up and over these swells.

And then those of us who were
not on watch needed to get some

sleep 'cause we were supposed to
be on the graveyard, so we were

gonna be up at midnight.

We tilted over inside, and then
I heard, "All hands on deck."

it was the leeward hull that
was full of water.

So, we're crawling through the
canoe in the blackness, in the

gale, and just trying to stop
the water going in, and it didn't work.

You know... it didn't work.

And then one swell and one
good gust of wind just picked us

up, and we just went fully over.

There we are, sitting on what
was the bottom of the canoe, and

I remember the first thing I did
was I looked up at the sky,

completely clear, and here were
the stars that were supposed to

guide us to Tahiti and now, you
know, we're not getting there so quick.

It's north winds, you know?

It's wintertime.

People may not think that Hawaii
has a winter... it's not true.

And so, again, you're battered
by saltwater that's a

temperature lower than your body
temperature, so, eventually,

it's gonna win.

I mean, I remember just kind of
uncontrollably shivering.

It was cold.

You know, I'm dehydrated at
this point, probably hypothermia.

You know, really shivering.

So, I was in, you know, fairly
bad shape, and Eddie said, "Let

me go for help."

And the captain said, "You know,
let's wait.

Wait to see what morning

We were drifting clearly
outside of the shipping lanes

'cause we're too far south, and
we had no ability to contact

land because our radio was

So nobody knew.

Yeah, you could say that
eventually, we would've got

found, but the question is "When?"
and "How many would survive that time?"

Not being able to really see any
real solutions... I mean, to me,

there weren't choices... we were

That is a very scary place to

Eddie said, "Let me go for

At this point, we were probably
10 to 12 miles away from the islands.

We drifted so much.

But he looked at the islands,
and he said, "Yeah, about three

or four hours, you know?
I can make that."

You know, I wasn't sitting
next to him.

I do remember him talking to the

I didn't know what they were
saying, but I could guess it.

I could guess what they were saying
'cause there was a surfboard on board.

But even in the helplessness,
I'm feeling that it wasn't... right.

It just wasn't right.

When he started to paddle off,
you know, I swam out to him.

There's a time when it's just me
and him, and I don't remember my

exact words, but I was, you know,
"Eddie, are you doing the right thing?"

Stupid question like that.
"Are you doing the right thing?"

I mean, he wasn't listening to
me because it wasn't a relevant question.

He was as focused as a human
being could become.

He seemed more powerful than

And he just looked out to sea,
And he, uh... pulled his arm

away, and he...

We didn't say goodbye.
And he left.

And at that time, we all held
hands with each other, and we

said a prayer.

And the whole time, all I was
saying in my head was,

"Go, Eddie. Go."

"Go, Eddie. Go."

I mean, I just had this, you
know, chant, and I had every bit

of confidence in a guy that I
had seen on a 25-foot wave.

They knew when Eddie left
that here was somebody who was

willing to risk his life for

So, I think knowing that gave
them more hope to just hang on,

and I think that's because when
he left, they knew that it was

gonna be okay.

The Coast Guard rescues us
about midnight, and flew back to Honolulu.

Must've been, I don't know, 2:00
in the morning, in the black of

the night, landing on the black
tarmac of south ramp,

Honolulu Airport.

And there were hundreds of
people there.

The helicopter comes, we see
everybody get out, and now we

kind of looking because everybody's
got these raincoats on, right?

So you couldn't tell who was

When we went down there...
people were whispering.

Then I just knew.

And I was young, yeah, and I
didn't understand how you got to

be really careful about your

Mom and Pops Aikau were in the
van, and... I walk in the door

and say, "Where's Eddie?"
thinking he was home.

And in that night, in that
black of the tarmac and the

black of that night, she cried.

She cried and she cried for her

And that was the first signal of
understanding how...

How deeply loved this man was by
a beautiful mother which

triggered the most massive land
and sea rescue ever.

The Coast Guard along with
everybody else in the surfing

world and whoever had a boat
went out to go look for Eddie.

We're in the middle of the
Molokai Channel, we're rolling

60 degrees, you can't see the

Why? Because of the wind and the sea
are just merging into foam.

And we're looking, we're
scanning, we're praying, you

know, that Eddie will be there.

Here with details of the
accident involving the

Polynesian voyaging canoe,
Hokule'a, is Dalton Tanonaka of

ABC's affiliate, KITV in

After a cold night hanging on
to the overturned Hokule'a,

Aikau set out on a surfboard to
get help for his crew mates,

but after an intensive land,
air, and sea search,

Eddie Aikau is still missing.

The worst part was that mama
would be waiting for hear, "We found him."

And then we had to come home and
say, "No, we never found him."

and I don't know how many
days... maybe it was 10 days of

this enormous search going on,
and Pops Aikau... proud, strong,

quiet, humble man... calls a
press conference.

So, the media, of course, floods
to the house, and Pops gets up

in his quiet way and just tells
everybody, "Everybody in Hawaii, stop.

You stop looking for my son.
Let him go."

I think Eddie passed into the
great unknown very blissfully,

very peacefully because he was
fulfilling his mission.

He was acting out his not
destiny, but his being as a Hawaiian.

He was proving the power of his

He needed to save the canoe
because I don't think that Eddie

could take it... couldn't let
the story of Hokule'a and its

possibilities and its legacy be

I just don't think he could.

For dying for the right
reason, for something honorable,

for something true, for
something so beautiful as that,

it's unintentional, of course,
but you accept it and you close

your eyes and you let the sea
just take you.

I believe that.
I do.

I think that's what happened.

Eddie's now part of the
spiritual world of Hawaii.

He paddled into eternity.


In the hearts and minds of the
culture, he's still paddling.

Following his disappearance
in 1978, very few people outside

of Hawaii had ever heard of
Eddie Aikau.

Then, in 1986, the Quiksilver in
Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave

Invitational was held for the
first time at Waimea Bay.

It was won by Clyde Aikau at
age 36, riding his late

brother's favorite big-wave

In the years since, "The Eddie"
has become the most prestigious

surfing competition in the

But it's inspiration, not prize
money, that has the world's top

big-wave riders gathering at
Waimea each year, joining the

Aikaus for an emotional opening
ceremony where Eddie's story and

the spirit he lived by is
remembered and his mana spread

around the globe.

Hokule'a was eventually rebuilt.

And in 1980, again set sail
across the Pacific.

With Nainoa Thompson at the
helm, Hokule'a successfully

reached Tahiti in 29 days.

Navigating by "ka makua o Maui,"
a star group named for Eddie Aikau.

♪ For hoku, hokule'a ♪

Today, Hokule'a continues her
voyages, a living symbol of

Hawaiian culture, guided by
Eddie, over all the long sea miles.

♪ Hokule'a ♪

From the crew of Hokule'a, we
love you, Hawaii.