Much of Hawaii’s history has been lost or whitewashed for tourists, including the story of Eddie Aikau, a Hawaiian lifeguard and surf legend who was proud of his native cultural identity, and taught others about Hawaii’s true history of Western exploitation:
The beach had been a refuge for Eddie, but, like many Hawaiians during the 1960s, he was becoming aware of the impact that annexation and statehood had had on native traditions. It’s impossible to know for sure how many Native Hawaiians lived on the islands at the time of first contact with British explorers, in 1778, but historians estimate that before Cook arrived there were around five hundred thousand. By 1890, disease, wars between islands, and poverty had reduced the number to a mere forty thousand. The history Kelly taught the younger surfers contradicted the story of a conflict-free annexation and statehood they’d learned in school. The reality was grim. The U.S. military was testing weapons on the island of Kaho‘olawe; sugarcane and pineapple plantations had replaced diverse, sustainable agriculture that preserved the scarce freshwater supply; Hawaiians were subject to the rule of a government based nearly five thousand miles away. As Kelly drove Eddie and his friends past Hawaiian valleys and mountains toward its beaches, they began to comprehend how Hawaii had been transformed into America.
Edward Ryon Makuahanai “Eddie” Aikau (May 4, 1946 – March 17, 1978) is one of the most respected names in surfing. He was the first lifeguard at Waimea Bay on the island of Oahu. He saved many lives and became well known as a big-wave surfer. “Eddie” was a true symbol of Aloha.
The opening ceremony for The Eddie is an amazing thing. Amid the chaos that is December on the North Shore, a group of the best big wave surfers in the world gather each year at Waimea Beach Park to honor Eddie Aikau and everything he has come to represent. As someone who writes about surfing, it’s an interesting thing to be a part of– there is a certain gravity there that feels too sacred to interrupt for the sake of a few words… Alexander Haro