Sunday, April 09, 2006

eddie would go

originally written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 04-09-06

In the winter of 1967, the legendary North Shore of Waimea Bay experienced one of the greatest seasons in big wave surfing. At the start of the annual big wave season, a unknown boy by the name of Eddie Aikau appeared and asked to be allowed to join the other surfers. He proceeded to stun the assembled crowd of professionals by charging fearlessly down the 40-foot waves. That day, the story of Eddie began.

Eddie Aikau was a native Hawaiian who had learned to surf using a heavy redwood board with his father. A high school dropout, he had been known in the local community as an aimless itinerant with no apparent sense of direction.

With that day in 1967, however, he appeared to find his calling. He quickly earned a reputation as one of the hardest chargers in big wave surfing, earning a string of big wave championships, including the 1977 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational. Eventually, his reputation solidified as he became the first lifeguard of Hawaii's North Shore, and in 1971 was named Lifeguard of the Year.

As Eddie matured, he began to seek some resolution of his identity, and sought to find some meaning in his life through an understanding of his Hawaiian heritage. As part of this, he sought to act as a peace-broker among surfers, hoping to see the North Shore become a haven for the aloha spirit among big-wave surfers. Following the death of his brother Gerald following Vietnam, Eddie also began to explore the spiritual roots of Hawaiian culture, and became a leader in the Hawaiian Renaissance movement.

In 1978, Eddie joined the Polynesian Voyaging Society expedition, which sought to assert Hawaii's heritage of seafaring navigation by launching a traditional 2-hull canoe and sailing 2,500 miles to Tahiti using traditional Hawaiian navigation techniques and ancient Polynesian sailing routes. However, a freak Northwesterly arose, and in the storm the boat capsized approximately 12 miles south of Molokai. Crew members found themselves clinging to a capsized canoe, miles from the nearest sea lane.

Eddie, recognizing the situation, volunteered to unleash his surfboard from the canoe and paddle to Lanai to find help. Believing himself to have the strength to make the distance, also believing in his own spiritual connection to the ocean, he volunteered 3 times. On his 3rd request, the expedition's leader relented. Eddie promptly mounted his surfboard and began paddling through the storm.

He was never heard from again.

Hours later, the boat crew was rescued when a passing plane spotted them in the water. Immediately after, Hawaii launched the largest air and sea rescue effort in its history to find Eddie. But he had been lost to the sea.

His family, along with the native Hawaiian community, later said that consistent with his spiritual beliefs, Eddie had been called by elements of nature, and his heart had been returned to the sea and his soul restored to the mana of the earth. In the years following his disappearance, his name became legend, and the legend grew into myth.

Now, throughout Hawaii, whenever a challenge arises, whenever someone finds themself facing dire conditions, whenever a person is seized by the sudden paroxysm of fear produced by the sight of the awesome face of danger, people will look at each other, and nod in determination, and say: EDDIE WOULD GO.

Triathlon traces part of its origins to Hawaii. Ironman began in Oahu, and grew on the Kona Coast of Hawai'i. In honor of its Hawaiian roots, and in honor of Eddie Aikau, we call upon Eddie's memory and tell you as well: EDDIE WOULD GO. Whenever you're seized by fear at the start of a swim wave. Remember: EDDIE WOULD GO. Whenever you're numb pondering the prospect of the bike ride. Remember: EDDIE WOULD GO. Whenever you're staggering, and wondering if you should even begin the run. Remember: EDDIE WOULD GO. No matter what the conditions, no matter how tough the terrain. Remember: EDDIE WOULD GO. No matter how tough things get. Remember: EDDIE WOULD GO. No matter what chaos, what challenge, what storm is upon you: EDDIE WOULD GO.

In the nam
e of Ironman: EDDIE WOULD GO.

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