I came across a doc last week on TV that I watched enthralled, Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau: ESPN Films: 30 for 30. It had to be fascinating for me to watch ESPN. Surfing is about the only sport I’ll sit still that long for. It was about Hawaiian surfing legend Eddie Aikau. It caught my attention early on telling about the sugar barons intentions and plans for the islands leading to U.S. marines overthrowing the Hawaiian monarch Queen Liliuokalani near the turn of the twentieth century, complete with vintage pictures. They decimated the Hawaiian culture and the native people were oppressed. The haole elite built a surfing club at Waikiki and learned to surf, but the native surfers were so good that they could step outside the new normal and retain a piece of their culture.

Fast forward to the peak of surf culture and competition. Eddie was the best at riding the huge 30-40 foot waves at Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu and his big dream was to win the Duke, named for the granddaddy of long board surfers, Duke Kahanamoku. He would hit second and third place year after year, but could never quite win. His brother Clyde started entering competitions and won the Duke the first time he tried. Eddie was really disappointed and down, but kept a good attitude and kept trying. He eventually won and the surfing world rejoiced. During this time he almost single handedly defused dangerous rivalry between the native Hawaiian surfers and the international interlopers who came in and started winning the competitions

He wanted something new and meaningful later and entered the competition for a place on the crew of the Hokulea, a sailing canoe built to go on a journey navigated only by the stars and ocean currents to Tahiti to prove that natives could have sailed to Hawaii and settled it. After a long process he gained a place. They left in bad weather, overturned, and the crew was adrift at sea on top of the bottom. Eddie was afraid they wouldn’t be rescued and set off paddling on his board to go too many miles for help. The crew used up all of their flares trying to signal planes. A tourist on a flight saw their last flare and they were rescued.

Eddie was never seen again.

It’s an incredible story. I can’t believe I’d never heard of him, or somehow knew and forgot his story. I was already familiar with the Hokulea. It was rebuilt in 1980 and made the journey successfully, proving that the native people could have navigated such an incredible distance safely and settled the islands. There are stories like this all is over this world, with awe inspiring heroes most of us never know of. In this particular case, I’m amazed that Eddie Aikau’s story hasn’t been made into a major Hollywood biopic and an award winning one at that. This is the stuff that Oscars are made of. The kind of thing that renders a theatre full of people silent, admiring, and humbled. The ESPN documentary certainly left this audience of one feeling that way. 

Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau Official Trailer