Tag Archives: Hawaii

Eddie Aikau – Legend, Lifeguard, and Young Man Who Dared

By Rex Dubiel –

Eddie Aikau

(unknown photographer)

Edward Ryon Makuahanai Aikau was born on May 4, 1946, in Kahalui, Maui. The third of six siblings, Eddie grew up close to his brothers and sisters. When he was eleven years old, he took up board riding and learned to surf in the shore break at Kahalui Harbor. In 1959 the Aikau family moved to Oahu. Eddie dropped out of high school at 16 and began working at the Dole Pineapple Cannery to help support the family.   He was able to surf on his breaks and schedule his job around his passion. He bought his first brand new surfboard with his paycheck from Dole—a Dale Velzy.

Eddie Aikau at Waimea

(photo by Jeff Divine)

Because of Eddie’s ability as a skilled waterman and good swimmer, and because he was at home when surfing big waves, he was hired by the City and County as the first lifeguard on the North Shore. Although he did not have a high school diploma, the City made an exception for this extraordinary surfer and put him in the tower at Waimea Bay. Eddie made daring rescues in raging surf and saved many lives. (There was never a loss of life while Eddie was on duty.) One of the benefits of being a lifeguard is being able to go out in the ocean during breaks and lunch, so Eddie continued to surf when the waves permitted. He became more skillful and daring, always challenging the moving mountains of water, and winning. Taking off on 30-foot waves, Eddie screamed down the faces with a big smile looking as fearless as could be. His prowess enabled him to win the Duke Kahanamoku International Surfing Championship in 1977. He was honored by his fellow lifeguards in 1971 and named “Lifeguard of the Year”. Eddie was loved by those who knew him. As Barry Kaniapuni, another big wave rider and surfboard shaper stated, “Eddie was a throw back with the old ‘Hawaiian kine’ attitude.”  He was the kind of fellow who would give you the shirt off his back, just a regular, down-to-earth guy.” At 31, Eddie Aikau was on top of the world!

In 1978, the Polynesian Voyaging Society was looking for volunteers for a 30-day, 2,500-mile journey following the ancient Polynesian route of the migration between the Hawaiian and Tahitian island chains. Eddie was excited and wanted to be part of history and his Hawaiian ancestry. He was proud of his heritage. He was a descendent of Kahuna Nui Hewahewa, the highest Hawaiian priest in the 19th century. Hewahewa became the caretaker of Waimea Valley where, 100 years later, Eddie would guard the beach. This young lifeguard was thrilled with the prospect of being a crewmember of the voyage. He even composed a song for the double-hulled canoe named the Hokule’a, Hawaiian for North Star. Eddie prevailed and was chosen to make the round-trip journey (The second for the Hokule’a).

Photo 4 small Eddie Alone 4 EIF 10-10-12 (David Bettencourt)

(photo by David Bettencourt)

On a windy afternoon on March 16, 1978, the Governor, press, and thousands of well-wishers and family were at the Magic Island in Waikiki for the send off.  The conditions weren’t ideal, but with all the fanfare and the pressure to cast off, the crew reluctantly departed and headed south.  The weather worsened with waves slamming against the canoe creating a leak in one of the hulls.  Eventually deep in the Molokai Channel, 12 miles off the coast of Lanai, the Hokule’a capsized.  There were no escort boats to notify officials of trouble, the emergency radio and emergency beacon were washed overboard.  Now, the course of the Hokulea was being set by the stars.  The crew clung to the canoe for eight hours in the dark before Eddie bravely volunteered to paddle his surfboard to Lanai for help.  After much debate, Eddie shoved off with a few oranges strung around his neck, his surfboard leash tied to his ankle, and a life vest strapped to his chest.  Within a few hundred yards of the overturned boat, Eddie shed the vest to paddle unencumbered.  His daring silhouette got smaller and smaller as he rose to his knees and paddled towards the lights of Lanai, braving the choppy surf and gale force winds.

That was the last time Eddie Aikau was ever seen. Several hours later, as the sun came up, a small plane spotted the Hokule’a and her stranded crew. Within minutes, a Coast Guard vessel was dispatched and the exhausted survivors were rescued. The largest air-sea search in modern Hawaiian history failed to find Eddie. “He gave his life to save others,” stated his grief-stricken younger brother, Clyde Aikau. It was a sad day in Hawaiian history when this 31-year old big wave rider, lifeguard, and Polynesian voyager was lost at sea.

“Eddie Would Go” has become a very popular saying attributed to Eddie Aikau. It’s on bumper stickers and t-shirts all over the world. The phrase originated at the first Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational contest when Mark Foo, another big wave rider and competitor, overheard the judges debating whether to hold the contest because the waves were so big and dangerous. Knowing Eddie’s love of riding massive surf and charging into the waves to make rescues, Mark interjected, “Eddie would go”. The judges agreed, the contest was on, and the phrase stuck.

Stuart Coleman, author, teacher and local coordinator for Surfrider Foundation Oahu Chapter, just released his 10th anniversary edition book about Eddie Aikau’s life, Eddie Would Go.  During his research Stuart came to know Eddie as, “Genuinely selfless and, although painfully shy, would step into positions of leadership to resolve issues between surfers with conflicts on the North Shore.  Eddie was also a talented musician and slack key guitarist.”

So, when you are on the North Shore, looking out over Waimea Bay, for winter surf or summer snorkeling, remember Eddie Aikau. Come visit the plaque honoring this Hawaiian legend at the entrance to the beach. Reflect and understand the importance of one man who challenged the sea, who paddled into the dark night to save his fellow voyagers, and to this day inspires others to dare the big waves.

Eddie’s surf contest accomplishments.

Photo 2 small Eddie Aikau Duke Final 1977 (Jeff Divine)

(Photo by Jeff Divine)

1968 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational
Eddie Aikau (3rd place)

1971 Smirnoff Contest, Hawaii
Eddie Aikau (3rd place)

1976 World Cup Contest, Hawaii
Eddie Aikau (3rd place)

Photo 1 small Eddie Aikau Sunset 1971 (Jeff Divine)

(Photo by Jeff Divine)

1976 Smirnoff Contest, Hawaii
Eddie Aikau (3rd place)

1977 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational
Eddie Aikau (1st place)

Eddie’s legacy lives on…

The Eddie Aikau Foundation

Eddie Aikau Foundation Logo (Linda 10-1-12)Mission Statement:  The Eddie Aikau Foundation is a charitable organization created to share Eddie Aikau’s life, contributions and accomplishments while promoting education and the advancement of Hawaiian culture. Founded by the Aikau Family, the Foundation pays tribute to Edward Ryon Makuahanai Aikau in honor of his love for his family and others, his courage and compassion in saving lives, and his dedication to the Hawaiian People and their culture. Eddie’s legacy is a pure symbol of the Aloha Spirit.

Goals:  The Eddie Aikau Foundation’s ambitious goals are realized through advocacy, education and philanthropy. These goals include: advancing education and community service; supporting ocean-related activities and events; assisting in the preservation and perpetuation of Hawaiian history and culture; and encouraging Hawaiians and visitors alike to respect and contribute to the growth and development of Hawaiian culture. Through Eddie’s remarkable spirit and character, the Foundation strives to inspire people to develop a strong sense of pride in themselves, their heritage and their community.

Courage to do the right thing: Eddie Aikau had courage to ride giant waves in Hawaii. He was a man who rode “mountains”. He was also a person who had the ultimate courage to do the right thing. Eddie was a lifeguard. He saved the lives of people of all races, color and creed with no hesitation. To lose one life was something he tried to prevent with all his might. He loved life as a precious gift! One of our goals is to inspire and encourage people of all walks of life to do the right thing when they have the chance.

The Essay Contest

Eddie Aikau Essay Contest LogoEddie Aikau Foundation has been conducting an annual Essay Contest since 2006 for all the 7th to 10th grade students in the State of Hawaii, from both public and private schools, including those students in a state monitored home- school program. There are English and Hawaiian Language Divisions so the students can submit their essays in either language for judging. For 2012 essay contest that ended this past March, 627 essays were submitted for judging.  The Foundation also has a new Scholarship program for graduating High School Seniors and just awarded $20,000 in scholarships to 15 students, this past June.

Eddie Would Go by Stuart Coleman

Book Eddie Would GoAfter four years of research, writing and more than 40 interviews with Eddie’s family, friends and fellow watermen, Stuart Coleman published the biography Eddie Would Go, in 2002. The book went on to become a bestseller and it earned the Cades Award for Literature. A paperback edition was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2004, and the biography has since been translated into Japanese, Portuguese and German. This year marks the 10th Anniversary of the book’s publication, and the new edition is available at Barnes & Noble and other bookstores, as well as on Amazon, Kindle and iBooks. For more information, go to www.EddieWouldGo.com or www.Stuart-Coleman.com.


The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau

Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie AikauQuiksilver, an international surf wear and ocean lifestyle company, honors Eddie Aikau by sponsoring, “The Eddie”—the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau. This surfing contest, created in 1984 at Sunset Beach and moved to Waimea Bay in 1987, draws big wave riders from around the world to the North Shore. There are also hundreds of spectators.  Every year, as large swells make way to Hawaii, everyone wants to know “are they going to have the Eddie?”  Any early swell, the largest in 15 years on this date, hit the north and west shores of Oahu with 20’ to 25’ faces in early October 2012, leaving the surf world anticipating and hoping for large swells.  Will we see The Eddie this year?

Because surfing conditions must be just right, The Eddie has been held only eight times since its inception. Open ocean swells must reach a minimum of 20 feet equaling a wave face of 30 feet in the Bay, with good surfing conditions. The most recent contest was held in December of 2009 when waves were registering 30 to 50 feet. Only 28 surfers are invited to vie for first prize in two rounds of competition. Clyde Aikau, Eddie’s brother, won the first Eddie in 1985 and continues to surf in the contest.  Current holding period is December 1, 2012 to February 28, 2013.  The opening ceremony is November 29, 2012.

Past Winners:

2009/2010 – Greg Long

2004/2005 – Bruce Irons

2001/2002 – Kelly Slater

2000/2001 – Ross Clarke-Jones

1998/1999 – Noah Johnson

1989/1990 – Keone Downing

1986/1987 – Clyde Aikau

1984/1985 – Denton Miyamura

Rick Williams – Veteran North Shore Lifeguard

By Rex Dubiel –

Rick Williams Photo 1 small (Rex Dubiel Credit)

(Photo by Rex Dubiel)

North Shore lifeguard, Rick Williams, has been surfing since he was six years old. At seven he got is first board shaped by local surf shop owner and legendary wave rider, Greg Noll. Rick caught waves all summer and after school at his neighborhood break, 30th Street, a short walk from his home in Hermosa Beach, California. Rick’s mom, Marge chauffeured him and his brother, Roddy, from surf spot to surf spot in their old Ford Maverick. The boys rode waves in Huntington, San Clemente, and Malibu. In the Sixties the surf industry was just starting to explode and Rick was in the center of it all! At twelve, he worked in Hermosa at Petrillo’s Surf Shop and had a spot out back fixing dings. Surfing became Rick’s life! In the summer of 1973, Rick took his first trip to Hawaii and fell in love with the islands. He spent three weeks at a surf camp on Kauai, then returned to Hawaii the next year, and, at 15, stayed for good.

Being an avid surfer, Rick made the North Shore his home and graduated from Waialua High School in 1975. Rick has been a North Shore lifeguard since 1981. He loves his job and his job loves him; he was named City and County employee of the Year in 1998. I asked him what qualities a good lifeguard must have and Rick asserted, “First of all, he or she musRick Williams Photo 3 small (Rex Dubiel Credit)t be a good swimmer, like people, be compassionate and quick thinking. The ocean environment is always changing, always moving, so a lifeguard must be alert and pay attention. Being a lifeguard is a team effort. I want to set a good example for the younger guards by being a vigilant, good partner.” Rick was mentored by legendary watermen, Mark Cunningham, Jimmy Blears, Terry Ahui, and Sean Ross. Over the past 30 years, Rick has rescued over 600 people and is a hero to many, many visitors and local residents.

Safety Poster small (John 10-25-10)Rick has some water safety tips for newcomers and see what he has to say in this poster. Rick designed the poster, wrote the text, made the drawings, and North Shore artist, John Bain, did the layout. Take his advice to heart and never turn your back on the ocean. Rick is a founding member of the North Shore lifeguard Association; a 501-c3 non-profit organization which was established in 1998 to promote ocean safety education for the community, support the Junior lifeguard Program, and host community bodysurfing events and paddleboard races. Rick just coordinated his 8th NSlA Bodysurfing Contest at Pipeline in March. He also wrote an Annenberg grant for which the NSlA was awarded $100,000. With a portion of that money, he produced the Junior lifeguard Movie. This clever, animated 20-minute film by Drew Toonz (Andrew Miller) teaches ocean safety and CPR. Go to: NorthShore-lifeguards.com to learn more about this worthy, volunteer organization. Rick has heros. His first was Bob Johnson, also called “Surf King”, a next door neighbor in Hermosa who took him surfing in Malibu. Rick looked up to another, older surfer, his boss at Petrillo’s, Gary Klarberg, who took him surfing too. Today his hero is the  legendary shaper, Owl Chapman. Owl is designing a board for Rick from a balsa wood tree that Rick grew in his backyard. Now that’s a serious surfer!

“There are so many good waves out there,” Rick replied when I asked him about a favorite surf spot. He’s ridden perfect waves all around the world —- Mexico, Fiji, Costa Rica, Australia, and South Africa. He takes at least one “Surf Safari” each year. Seems like Mr. Williams is leading the surfer’s perfect life! Rick has hobbies other than surfing, the foremost being a gardener on his mountaintop farm in Pupukea above many North Shore surf spots. He has a small nursery and sells grafted fruit trees. “I was taught all I know from the late Herbert Reposa of the UH experimental Farm in Waialua.”

Rick William Photo 2 small (Rex Dubiel Credit)

(Photo by Rex Dubiel)

Rick espouses “Green”. He’s almost a vegetarian, raises worms, makes compost, recycles everything and declares, “Don’t send green waste away, everything goes back to soil”! Rick is also a devoted husband to his wife of 30 years, Nancy. He stated, “Being married is a stabilizing factor in my life”. Smart thinking, Mr. Williams. The long range goals for this famous North Shore lifeguard are few — grow more food, live simply, and set a good example for others”. Rick Williams does set a good example for others, and, I am sure, he will continue.

Rell Sunn – The Spirit of Aloha

By Rex Dubiel –

Rell Sunn 2 small (Jeff Divine)

(Photo by Jeff Divine)

Rell Sunn is a legend throughout Hawaii, and in surfing communities around the world. She rode waves with grace and fearlessness. Her spirit was the embodiment of aloha – loving, giving, and sharing. Rell lived her life with compassion and touched the hearts of everyone she met. As this exotic Hawaiian-Chinese beauty gracefully surfed across the globe, she made new friends everywhere. Her curiosity was contagious! She was constantly looking for adventure, and with her tenacity, she always found it! Rell had the ability to talk almost anyone into anything, so she always had companions in her quests. She thrived on creating enriching experiences, always coming up with bright ideas and drawing those around her into the excitement of the hunt – for waves, fish, antiques, shells, vintage aloha shirts – you name it, and Rell was interested!

Born on the West Side of Oahu, Rell grew up with her sisters and brother riding waves in Makaha. From an early age, she challenged herself. She was the consummate water woman – a surfer, first, and then a free diver, canoe paddler, and lover of the sea. Rell would dive for dinner. She was so good at capturing octopus, she acquired the name, “Squid Eye,” given to those who know exactly in which rocky hole their prey lives. She dove deep, too, up to 80 feet. Rell had encounters with sharks and sometimes had to give up her catch so she wouldn’t be the shark’s catch.

Randy Rarick, Rell Sunn, Jimmy Blears

Randy Rarick, Rell Sunn and Jimmy Blears
(unknown photographer)

As Rell matured into a champion surfer, she found her inimitable style – casual and full of grace. She could easily ride the nose of a board, dancing back and forth, as she glided down the face of the wave. At 14 she joined Randy Rarick’s surf team. In 1976 Randy was just initiating the birth of the world surfing tour with Fred Hemmings. Randy was the Tour Director for eight years and on the first world tour, he chaperoned Rell and her peers as they surfed the best waves on the planet. One of her competitors, Betty “Banzai Betty” Depolito, said, “You almost never wanted to beat Rell because she was so nice”. Rell loved children and children loved Rell. She was always ready with a kind word and heartfelt advice making each child feel special. When her daughter, Jan, was having her 5th birthday party at Alii Beach Park in Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore, Rell had one of her bright ideas. Why not hold a surfing contest for kids? Rell Sunn’s Menehune Surf Contest is past its 35th year. Skill Johnson, a well-known announcer and auctioneer, got his start at the contest and has been running the event ever since. Last year in the waves at Alii Beach Park, there were 275 competitors ranging in age from ages 2 to 12. Held every October, it’s a great kickoff to the surfing season on the North Shore.

There is also the West Side Rell Sunn Menehune Surfing Contest held every Thanksgiving weekend at Makaha that’s in its 36th year. Because Rell was an expert swimmer and because she was strong, intelligent and quick on her feet, she was chosen to be the first female lifeguard for the City and County of Honolulu. She guarded the beaches at her beloved Makaha making sure everyone stayed safe. With that job, Rell was able to surf on her breaks and at her favorite break. She had the best of both worlds – looking out for others and riding waves.

Known affectionately as the Queen of Makaha, Rell’s home always had an open door, an invitation to anyone who wanted to come over surf, or just talk story. No board? No problem. always had extras and encouraged visitors use them. If she wasn’t in her house, aptly named Rell’s Motel, you could count on her being down at the beach. Her home was full of love and collectibles and she was forever bringing people together. Being around Rell’s spirit of aloha, made others feel special, and a visit to her home was full of memories. Jeannie Chesser was one of Rell’s closest friends. They met in 1971 when Jeannie was photographing a surfing contest in Makaha and approached Rell with pictures after the event. Being single moms and diehard surfers, they connected and were constant companions. When was off island surfing competitively, Jeannie would keep her daughter, Jan. Jeannie and her son, Todd, would spend the weekends with Rell and surf the West Side of Oahu. They became “ohana” which means “family” in Hawaiian. “Rell taught me to share, not just with my friends and family, but with everyone. Her generosity was legendary”, Jeannie remembered as she spoke of her close friend.

Rell Sunn 1 small (Jim Russi)

(Photo by Jim Russi)

Rell put up a brave fight when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1983. She kept her spirit alive, continued surfing, and, instead of keeping a secret and being quiet, she bravely started “kokua (‘giving back’ in Hawaiian) groups”. She would speak to seniors and encourage them to visit the doctor for screenings. Yes, Rell was always thinking of others even during her darkest days. She fought the disease with grit and always wore a smile. Her positive attitude inspired others as she educated them about early detection of breast cancer.

Jan, Rell’s daughter, remembers her Mom, “ She inspired me to always be nice and generous to others. To take young children under my wing and teach them right from wrong and humility and to love. She showed me that you didn’t have to have much to help another in a bad situation, so you should always give. She inspired me to live my life to the fullest. No regrets and try new challenges and adventures always! I definitely learned through her…….Life is too short, so LIVE IT!” Rell Sunn passed away in January of 1998 leaving the spirit of aloha in everyone she had touched. She will always be an inspiration to others encouraging them to LIVE ALOHA every day. Please heed Rell’s advice and celebrate her life…be generous with words and deeds, take care of others, and take care of yourself, too.

Rell Sunn 3 (Bernie Baker)

(Photo by Bernie Baker)

The Hawaii Dept. of Health, BCCC Program, offers free mammogram screenings for those who qualify. Phone: (808) 692-7460 for more information. Mahalo to George Downing, Tom Servais, Skill Johnson, Rick Williams, Jeannie Chesser, Jeff Divine, Randy Rarick, Betty Depolito, Jim Russi, Bernie Baker, Claudia Kravitz, and Jan Sunn-Carreira for their insight, perspectives, and memories of Rell Sunn, the Queen of Makaha.