When I need courage I remember that…Eddie Would Go
This article was inspired after watching the documentary on Eddie Aikau. If you have never heard of Eddie Aikau, he was one of Hawaii’s most celebrated surfers (next to Duke Kahanamoku). Besides his surfing prowess, he was Waimea Bay’s first lifeguard. Waimea Bay is on the north shore of Oahu and is renowned for its massive surf. Eddie was one of the pioneers in big wave riding. If you search for pictures of Eddie riding big waves, you will find that he had that unmistakable low crouch as he attacked massive, forty foot walls of water. His skill and his courage as a lifeguard helped save hundreds of people from sure drowning in the massive swells of Waimea Bay.
When I watch old video footage of Aikau carving turns on massive waves, I can’t help but wonder how he summoned the courage to step up on to a forty foot wall of ocean that was destined to crash hard onto the sand or worse, the black volcanic rock. Is love of a sport enough to risk it all for that thrill or is there something more? Surfing in Hawaii has a fascinating history. Most cultures which lived on the ocean had respect, or more likely fear, of the water. In the earliest depictions of native Hawaiians by the invading Europeans, there was clearly not only a reverence for the waves but a culture which found great pleasure in riding the waves for celebration.
The haoles (white people) that came to the islands with Captain Cook in 1778 decimated the island population with measles, cholera, and gonorrhea. When Cook arrived the island population of Hawaiians was around 300,000; by 1848 it was around 90,000. After the execution of Cook in 1779 on the west coast of the Big Island, Captain Vancouver was next to bring a boat full of haoles. By 1810, Kamehameha I had conquered and united all the Hawaiian islands. There would be four more Kamehamehas and Queen Liliuokalani. By the late 1800’s, the United States had decided it was in Hawaii’s best interest to be annexed by them. By 1893 the monarchy of Hawaiians governing themselves was no more. Not only had they taken over the islands and overthrown the monarchy but they had decided surfing would become the new club sport for the haoles.
When Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959, tourism began to explode on the islands and the now surf crazy Californians flocked to Oahu and once again the haoles claimed surfing on the islands for themselves. With the influx of the new wave of haoles, Hawaiians surfers such as Aikau, were no longer content to watch the sport of their ancestors be taken over again. Aikau and several other Hawaiian surfers started to make their mark and began winning the big surfing competitions previously dominated by Californians.
Aikau was clearly a proud Hawaiian. In fact when a call was made to locals who might be interested in trying out for a team to sail a replica of the original ship which sailed from Tahiti to Hawaii, Aikau jumped at the chance. The Hokulea which was a double-hull canoe set sail in 1978 from Oahu. The crew, including Aikau, was to sail to Tahiti navigating as the ancient Polynesians using only the constellations as a guide. Only a few hours into the sail, the Hokulea ran smack into a wicked storm. The Hokulea capsized and the crew clung to the overturned boat in the cold rainy night. When morning came and it was clear that they were drifting far out to sea, Aikau volunteered to paddle his surfboard back to Hawaii. The captain asked him to reconsider but Eddie Aikau was a man destined to live and die by the ocean. Eventually the crew were all rescued but Aikau was never found.
It is an amazing story of courage. It seems to me that Eddie’s courage was built on the confidence of knowing who he was and what he was here to do. We all feel scared from time to time. Maybe we are scared to fail or scared to succeed. Some are scared of change and others are scared of things remaining the same. When we have fear, it is sometimes best to look at the source of that fear and ask ourselves if there is really anything to be afraid of. If we are afraid of failing we must ask ourselves, “Why?” What is the worst that could happen? Without trying, we can never know what is possible. Eddie Aikau tried for years to win the only surfing competition that mattered to him – the Duke. Finally in 1977, the year before he died, he won. Sometimes when we are scared it helps to think about somebody who appeared to be able to control fears when it matter most. Sometimes when I am afraid of failing, I remind myself, “Eddie would go.” There is nothing to fear but fear itself.