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The Life of a Legend

A local documentary reveals the story of Eddie Aikau.


Photo: Courtesy of the Aikau Family

Eddie Aikau is one of the most revered figures in Hawaii’s history. But few people know any more about him than his accomplishments as a big-wave surfer and his tragic disappearance at sea 27 years ago.

This month, KGMB debuts a one-hour documentary that will give viewers a deeper understanding of the local icon. Veteran producer Phil Arnone interviewed 25 family members and friends for the special, Eddie Aikau—Hawaiian Hero, capturing their recollections of the already-storied figure.

“Eddie’s story interested me, because he accomplished so much with so little in his very short life,” says Arnone. Aikau was 31 when he disappeared during the 1978 voyage of the Hokulea. When the canoe capsized south of Molokai, Aikau attempted to paddle toward land for help, but was never seen again.

“We know he must’ve been something special to want to go in the water to save his crewmembers,” Arnone says. “But what we are hoping to tell people is what else he cared about. What was he like as a human being?”

Aikau’s family—his sister, Myra, and brothers, Sol and Clyde—gave the project their blessing, even unearthing old photos and home videos, many of which have never been seen by the public. Footage of the publicity-shy Aikau was hard to come by, but Arnone managed to dig up some impressive shots. One visual gem: Aikau surfing Sunset Beach in the 1977 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, a competition that took him 10 years to win. There are also rare radio interviews, including one in which Aikau sings and plays the song he wrote for his fellow Hokulea crewmembers.

Family and friends share their touching tales, as well. How the Aikaus welcomed everyone into their home, located just behind the local cemetery the family cared for. How skilled Aikau was at playing slack key guitar, a passion of his second only to surfing. How he became one of the first lifeguards at Waimea Bay, credited with saving countless lives in some of the most treacherous conditions and, some say, inspiring the now-ubiquitous phrase “Eddie Would Go.”

Eddie Aikau—Hawaiian Hero
KGMB9, April 19 and 30, 9 p.m.

“He rescued so many people as a lifeguard, and the way he disappeared going into the dark on a surfboard was just so typical of Eddie—trying to save people,” says Aikau’s former surfing buddy and big-wave legend Peter Cole. “He was very quiet, kind of an introvert, but he had so much aloha. His whole life, the way he lived, was to give of himself.”


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Honolulu Magazine September 2018
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