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A visual tribute to Eddie Aikau, surfing's trailblazer of the big swell
When it came to big waves, "Eddie would go"
 

Hawaii has no shortage of surfers who chase the biggest swells and embrace the Aloha spirit. But today's surf stars, such as Kelly Slater and Greg Long, ride in remembrance of trailblazers like Eddie Aikau.

Waimea Bay, February 1978. | (Steve Wilkings/Eddie Aikau Foundation)


Aikau was a born-and-bred Hawaiian who took on every major swell that hit the North Shore for more than a decade. At his peak, Aikau rocked a 1977 win at the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championship.

When not chasing big surf, he worked as the first lifeguard on the North Shore — not a single person died in the 10 years Aikau served as keeper of Waimea Bay.

March 16, 1978: Aikau, before leaving on the ill-fated Hokule'a. | (David Bettencourt/Eddie Aikau Foundation)


In the end, however, the sea was more than Aikau's life, it was his final resting place. In 1978, at just 31 years old, Aikau joined the Polynesia Voyaging Society. Planning to mimic the Polynesian migration, the group took off in the Hokule'a, a traditional canoe, for a 30-day, 2,500-mile journey between the Hawaiian and Tahitian islands. The same swells Aikau loved to chase down on his board proved too much for the Hokule'a; the canoe capsized, leaving the crew clinging to the wreckage. Aikau insisted on paddling toward Lanai, an island about 12 miles to the east.

As he disappeared into the ocean on his rescue board, he called back to the crew: "Don't worry, I can do it."

Several hours later, the U.S. Coast Guard arrived and rescued the adventurers. But despite the subsequent search — the largest air-sea operation in Hawaiian history — Aikau was never seen again.


November 30, 2006: Participants in Quiksilver's Big Wave Invitational line up their surfboards in honor of Aikau at the opening ceremony in Waimea Bay, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Lucy Pemoni)


Hawaiians use a phrase in honor of Aikau: "Eddie would go." They use it when talking about big swells, but also when talking about helping each other, going above and beyond. Quiksilver hosts an invitational at Waimea Bay, where Aikau ruled the waves. The invitees wait for the perfect day of swells, the kind of day Aikau liked best.

They paddle out so that they can fly, all muscle and daring and glory, back toward the shore.

Eddie would've loved it.

Waimea Bay, February 1978. | (Steve Wilkings/Eddie Aikau Foundation)

**To learn more about the Eddie Aikau Foundation or make a donation, visit the website**

 
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