Book Review – Eddie Would Go

By: Randolph Giudice
Oahu Island News

It’s not hard to run into Eddie Aikau these days. From the famous image of Eddie cruising a big wave across the face of a Bank of America check, to the Internet tributes, clothing lines, and Quiksilver’s surfing competition in his honor, Eddie is everywhere. Now you can finally get the full story about Hawaii’s undisputed “King of Waimea Bay” in Stuart Holmes Coleman’s memorable portrait, Eddie Would Go.

“Gentle on land, but fearless on the water”, Eddie Aikau was one of Hawaii’s legendary surfers, and in the hands of Coleman his story reads like a myth sprung to life. During his early days living with his family beside the grounds of a Chinese graveyard in Pauoa Valley, Eddie quickly fell in love with his ancestral pasttime. Graduating from pai-po-board to “elephant gun”, it wasn’t long before he built a reputation as an unstoppable big-wave rider. Massive sets that would drive seasoned surfers back to shore were towering invitations that Aikau rarely passed up. As the first official lifeguard of Waimea Bay, Eddie made almost impossible rescues under severe weather conditions. Utterly fearless on the big waves, a hotdog when necessary – just watch his winning performance in the 1977 Duke Classic – Aikau was a natural waterman who had a profound respect for the ocean.

In the seventies, surfers were descending on Hawaii from all over the world, eager to shred the smaller sets at the South Shore, or pit themselves against the thundering power of Waimea Bay. Some surfers, while bringing a new competitive edge and frenetic style to the sport, also brought tough words for the resident wave-sliders. But while others got caught up in the local tension, Aikau became a spiritual role model for both factions, a natural philosopher who believed in both the heritage of his people and making room for others. If Eddie was the unofficial ambassador of surfing, the Aikau clan was the first family of aloha. Parties always lit up the Aikau compound, and many visitors to the island were taken in by the loving family and treated with Hawaiian hospitality.

Eddie believed strongly in the Hawaiian adage, “Never turn your back on the ocean”, but his years as a lifeguard taught him to help those in danger. The latter sentiment would win out and prematurely end his life at the age of thirty-three when he attempted to bring help to his stranded crew-mates on the capsized sailing canoe, Hokulea. Eddie Aikau was lost at sea on March 16, 1978.

A lifelong surfer himself, Stuart Holmes Coleman vividly captures the power and the glory of Hawaii’s “outdoor cathedral”, from Eddie’s assault on the waves at Waimea Bay in 1967, to the wipe-outs, victories and unforgettable moments that shaped the lives of the “majestic aristocracy” of surfing. A tale both heartfelt and inspiring, Eddie Would Go isn’t just for surfers. It should be required reading for those of us who are determined to live a good life.

Eddie Would Go, by Stuart Holmes Coleman
Mind Raising Press, 271 pgs.