All Hawaii is abuzz with “the Eddie” — an extreme surfing event that only takes place when ocean swells reach at least 20 feet during the annual one-month holding period. The Eddie had run seven times before today. This is the 25th anniversary of the surfing event but it has been five years since it was held. The waves dictate the competition.
Human organizers watch for favorable conditions and then issue invitations to a short list of big-wave surfers from around the world. They all gathered in Hawaii in the past couple of days, hoping. This morning, just around sunrise, the word went out — the Eddie would be held. News crews who weren’t already in place rushed to the North Shore. Spectators who had spent the night on the beach on the off chance that this would be the year were richly rewarded. Traffic on the single highway encircling the island crawled to a stop as everyone who could headed for Waimea Bay. Those of us who couldn’t ditch work watched live video streams on computers, cheering both the waves and their reckless riders.
The surfing contest alone is legendary. But it commemorates the life of Eddie Aikau, also the stuff of legends. Apart from the surf contest in his memory, bumper stickers and tee shirts all over the islands proclaim “Eddie Would Go”. It doesn’t just mean that Eddie would go surfing, although he surely would. Eddie was the first lifeguard at Waimea Bay, carrying on an ancestral obligation to care for the bay and the valley that feeds it. His interest in Hawaii’s history and his personal connection with it placed Eddie aboard the historic voyage of the Hokule’a, an authentic replica of the double-hulled canoes that first brought Polynesians to the Hawaiian Islands.
The first Hokule’a voyage encountered difficulties in the Moloka’i Channel and it appeared that all aboard would be lost. In the version of the story I was told, Eddie asked permission of the captain to take his surfboard and attempt to reach the island of Lana’i for help. Whether he insisted or was finally granted permission, Eddie set out on the last rescue mission of his life. A late airline flight and a lucky flair allowed those aboard the sinking Hokule’a to be rescued while no sign was ever found of Eddie or his board.
Eddie’s dedication to Waimea Bay, the safety of those under his charge, and joy of riding the big ones are celebrated whenever “the Eddie” is run. Today, his spirit mixed with the adrenalin of the surfers, the enthusiasm of the crowds and the sea spray of the waves in his beloved bay. Eddie did go and it was epic.