Sunday, February 2, 2014
EDDIE WOULD GO: HAWAII'S MOST RIGHTEOUS SURFER
Reader Allaire Linebarger recently wrote to tell me of Hawaiian surfer/lifeguard/folk hero Eddie Aikau, thinking he might qualify for Magnificat's Credible Witness series.
She said, "The other day father at Mass was talking about individuals who live the faith and inspire us. He spoke of Eddie Aikau and his giving of his life in loving service. He was a surfer life guard and native Hawaiian. Maybe you know of him. They have signs all about Hawaii saying 'Eddie Would Go' to commemorate his willingness to go where needed. The family was Catholic although the dad had been a Mormon. They had monthly family meetings where all undercurrents of discord were uncovered, discussed, mended. They were a large family.
Eddie gave his life because he did go seek help for those on a capsizing canoe while at sea. He gave up his life vest for others and climbed aboard his surf board seeking rescue. He was never seen again."
Here's his bio, from the Eddie Aikau Foundation website:
"Edward Ryon Makuahanai "Eddie" Aikau (May 4, 1946 – March 17, 1978) is one of the most respected names in surfing. He was the first lifeguard at Waimea Bay on the island of Oahu. He saved many lives and became well known as a big-wave surfer. "Eddie" was a true symbol of Aloha.
Born on the island of Maui, Aikau later moved to O'ahu with his family in 1959. In 1968, he became the first lifeguard hired by the City & County of Honolulu to work on the North Shore. Not one life was lost while he served as lifeguard at Waimea Bay. Eddie braved surf that often reached 20 feet high or more to make a rescue. He became very famous for surfing the bigHawaiian surf and won several surfing awards including First Place at the prestigious 1977 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championship. The local saying, "Eddie Would Go," refers to his stoke to take on big waves that other surfers would shy away from and his courage to make a rescue in impossible situations.
"Eddie" became involved in perpetuating his Hawaiian heritage. In 1976, the Polynesian Voyaging Society sailed the Hokule'a on a successful 30-day, 2500 mile journey following the ancient route of the Polynesian migration between the Hawaiian and Tahitian islands. In 1978, a second voyage of the traditional sailing canoe was planned. At 31 years of age, Aikau was selected for this voyage as a crew member. The Hokule'a left the Hawaiian Islands on March 16, 1978. The double-hulled voyaging canoe developed a leak in one of the hulls and later capsized in stormy weather about twelve miles south of the island of Molokai. In an attempt to get to land to save his crew and the Hokule'a, Aikau paddled toward Lanai on his surfboard. Hours later a commercial airplane spotted the Hokule'a and the rest of the crew was soon rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. Aikau was missing at sea. Despite great search efforts "Eddie" was never seen again."
Allaire recommended Eddie Would Go: The Story of Eddie Aikau, Hawaiian Hero and Pioneer of Big Wave Surfing, by Stuart Holmes Colman--which I immediately checked out of the library and devoured. This old-school world-class waterman was raised Catholic and came from a big family, presided over by the charismatic "Pops," who lived in a graveyard, worked hard, and threw constant parties featuring roast pig, slack-key guitar, and a potent home-brew (pineapple, brown sugar, strawberry syrup) called swipe. He drank a little too much at times and even after marrying, had a bit of an eye for the girls. But his real love was the sea, and Coleman does a beautiful job of weaving in Hawaiian history, culture, language, food, music and age-old mystical connection with the water.
In a culture whose land had been stolen by a few white businessmen, whose language, culture, customs and even ocean had been commandeered by outsiders, Eddie didn't want to fight. He was a peace-maker, which is the one thing, maybe, that takes more courage than fighting.
He didn't want to attack, carve up, use the wave as on object to showcase himself. He wanted to be one with the wave. You don't have to know anything about surfing to know that is righteous. He had the duende--roughly, soul crossed with heart crossed with class--of bullfighters and certain ballerinas. He was what Bill Hicks was to comedy, Maria Callas was to opera, and Hans Christian Andersen was to the children's story. .
The night the Hokule'a capsized, he paddled off on his surfboard, in a storm, with nine miles of roiling sea between him and land. He seemed to know he was destined to die doing what he was born to do: to look out for others; to be one with the water. He seemed not to have much minded. "Everything's gonna be okay," he told his captain as he left. "Everything will be okay."
As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird, "Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It's knowing you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.
"His memorial plaque reads: "Greater love hath no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13).