VIA – ESPN
Eddie would roll
Sam George opens up about Eddie Aikau documentary in progress
By Kimball Taylor
Updated: December 1, 2011, 7:04 PM ET
Jeff DivineThe epitome of a man at the top of the world, Eddie Aikau at Sunset Beach, circa early ’70s.
Your knowledge of the Hawaiian big-wave surfer Eddie Aikau may extend no deeper than the contest held in his name, “The Eddie,” or the ubiquitous bumper sticker slogan, “Eddie Would Go.”
In fact, the 2011/2012 invitees to the Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau are at Waimea Bay on Thursday celebrating the man’s life and legacy at this year’s opening ceremony. And although his image has been marketed to great success, there’s never been so much as a profile of Eddie Aikau in Surfer or Surfing magazine.
Having been lost at sea in 1978, the romance of his story gained heft even as his cultural contributions traveled without attribution. But according to former Surfer magazine editor and filmmaker Sam George, every surfer has been touched by those contributions.
Among them, despite his early competitive success, Aikau accepted a post as the North Shore’s first lifeguard — thus establishing one of the most capable lifeguard services in the world. Aikau also participated in and fueled a grassroots renaissance of Hawaiian culture that continues today. The spirit of camaraderie that thrives amongst the current big-wave community today is also, in many respects, a legacy of Aikau.
Through interviews with friends, family members, athletic rivals and academics, the docu-team of Stacy Peralta and Sam George have been hard at work investigating a life that often embodied the best of what Hawaiian surfing has given the world. ESPN recently spoke with Sam George about the project.
ESPN.com: What surprises has your research uncovered about this iconic figure?
Sam George: There’s a cultural component to the Eddie Aikau story that makes it broader than a simple biography. As his brother Clyde explained, growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, Hawaiian identity was not something you were proud of. Their indigenous culture had been systematically suppressed. Eddie rediscovering his ‘Hawaiianess’ in the surf was a true expression of his Polynesian roots.
Surfing does not get the credit it deserves as a cultural force. Look at all of the most potent symbols of “Hawaii” to the outside world. The pineapple came from the Philippines, the grass skirt came from Yap in Micronesia, the ukulele came from Madeira off of Portugal — only surfing is an authentic expression of Hawaiian culture. There are really strong parallels between the formation of the Outrigger Canoe Club — an all-white water sport club in Waikiki — and the Hui Nalu, a club formed by the Hawaiians. Eddie was present at the rebirth of Hawaiian culture and that’s why he became such a potent figure.
You say Aikau’s character contained an element that directed his life in a way.
I believe it came from being a part of that big family, but Eddie had something in his nature that gave him the role of a protector. He was a great athlete growing up, but he dropped out of school to make money for the family. Lots of guys could have been the first North Shore lifeguard, but Eddie did it. In 1976, he tracked down Rabbit Bartholomew where he was in hiding to mediate the dispute between the Hawaiian and Australian surfers [chronicled in ‘Bustin’ Down the Door’]. Even his brother Clyde admitted that he wouldn’t mind kicking some Aussie butt. Eddie had this thing that just made him want to help people, and that’s what makes his eventual death [when he left the floating wreck of the Hokule’a to find help for his crewmates] so poignant…
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