On February 25, 2016, the Eddie Aikau surf competition took place on Oahu’s North Shore at the world renowned Waimea Bay. It had only been the ninth time in over 30 years that the prestigious, invitation-only, meet took place due to stringent guidelines that require a minimum of continuous 20-foot open swells to hold the event held in Eddie’s honor. It seems fitting that only the biggest waves be ridden by the best surfers in the world when considering that the meet’s namesake was notorious for surfing the largest and wildest swells for hours on end in his beloved bay. Eddie was the first lifeguard hired on the North Shore of O’ahu and Waimea Bay was his “home”. Everyone knew that they were safe when he was on duty because no one died on Eddie’s watch. It was his tenacity, his strength, his fearless grace and steely determination to ride the biggest waves and brave the most dangerous rescues, that inspired the phrase, “Eddie Would Go”.
Friends and family described him as being “full of aloha”, always ready to welcome and help another, attributes befitting his given Hawaiian name, “Makuahanai”, which translates to a parent who fosters, feeds or adopts. A native son of Hawai’i, Eddie’s love for the sea and his people earned him a spot on the Hokule’a, a voyaging canoe that set out to follow the ocean paths of ancient Polynesian ancestors, utilizing only traditional navigational tools and skills. When the canoe capsized several miles south of Moloka’i, it was Eddie who would “go”, as he hopped on a surfboard and paddled off towards land in an effort to save his crew. He was never seen again.
One may ask why I’m dedicating a blog to Eddie Aikau since I don’t surf and I’m certainly not a water person. I’m not quite sure myself except that as the island prepared for this rare event and thousands of people made the journey to the North Shore to share in it’s magnificence, I found myself moved and deeply interested. I pondered on the significance of this single human life and what he stood for. Here was a Hawaiian braddah, hailing from humble local circumstances, very little formal education and no career aspirations that the world would consider lofty or even economically sustainable. But Eddie followed his heart, his passion and I’d like to believe, the call of his ‘ohana and ancestors that came before him. He was brave, true, authentic. In a sports arena where your life was on the line daily, his courage and masculinity were not emblems of bravado and ego, but marks of an inherited, developed talent and gifts of service and aloha. He had to have been scared, whether riding a 30-foot-wave or paddling off to seek land on a lone surfboard. But he went anyway, time and again, he went despite any fears, self-doubts and expectations. He went because he loved; he loved and respected the ocean, he loved to surf, he loved people. And as a Hawaiian, as a woman, as a person of this ‘aina, I want to emulate the values that he stood for.
I’ve ridden many swells in my life and I’m fairly certain that I would have drowned without the help from God, family and friends. There have been days when I’ve looked out at the surf and thought, “should I stay on shore?” or “should I chance ‘um?”. In the last year, I’ve become the mom of a newborn and went back to school part-time to pursue a passion, while trying to balance a full-time career, a family and other responsibilities. Sometimes I want to call it a day, the waters seem too rough, the waves too high. But its when I do “chance ‘um”, its when I “go for broke”, that I enjoy the exhilarating rides of adventure, the satisfaction of fulfilling my potential and the joy that comes from doing what you love, and honoring who and where you came from. And so, if you’re reading this, I challenge you to catch the big wave, to chance ‘um. Because #EddieWouldGo and you can, too.