Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Message for Kona

I wrote something about this some time ago (reference: eddie would go), but I feel compelled to re-write it again for matters of pressing relevance.

This post is directed for those competitors presently preparing for the Ironman World Championships in Kona. I know at least 2 of them well, 1 a pro and another a freakish elite age grouper (names are withheld to protect their innocence...but good luck, guys!).

I myself am not doing Kona--I'm not that good, and likely never will be. But I do know something about Hawaii, and about Asian-Pacific-Islander traditions, enough to be sensitive to cultural issues. After hearing about some of the controversial cultural faux pas that have occurred at Kona in recent years, I figured I should do my part and try to offer anyone there something to help ease over any possible unintended offenses to native traditions and sensibilities.

There are many important aspects of native Hawaiian culture that are relevant to competitors going to Kona. But rather than devolve into a cursory overview of a random selection of them, I figure it'd be more in keeping with Hawaiian tradition to focus instead on providing something that would convey a sense of the Hawaiian spirit, and the mana (or spiritual power, reference: Wikipedia: Mana) that is so central to it.

One of the best--or at least most popular--stories demonstrating the Hawaiian spirit is the story of Eddie Aikau. It's become a special part of Hawaiian lore, because it's real, and occurred within the living memory of most islanders. It's also special because it resonates with ancient traditions, and so reminds many Hawaiians of the continuing relevance of their past.

Eddie Aikau was not originally a particularly auspicious personality. Born in 1946 on the island of Maui, he grew to become a high school dropout, and developed a dubious reputation of being an aimless slacker. Apart from an interest in surfing acquired from his father, he had no apparent ambition and no apparent motivation to improve himself.

Everything changed, however, in the winter of 1967. That winter, 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, Eddie appeared as an unknown visitor, and proceeded to stun the assembled crowd of professionals by charging fearlessly down waves measuring as much as 40 feet.

That day, the Eddie's life seemed to finally begin. He went on to win a string of big wave championships, including the prestigious Duke Kahanamoku Invitational in 1977, earning a reputation of being among the hardest chargers the world of big wave surfing had ever seen.
His courage carried him to also become the first lifeguard of Hawaii's North Shore--one of the most dangerous surf spots in the world--where in 1971 he was honored as Lifeguard of the Year.

As Eddie advanced professionally, he also began to mature personally. In an effort to rise above the personal demons of his youth and resolve what he felt were lingering issues in his life, he sought to explore his native Hawaiian heritage. This exploration intensified following the death of his brother Gerald in Vietnam. In time, he became a leader in the Hawaiian Renaissance movement (reference: Wikipedia: Hawaiian Renaissance), which sought to restore genuine Hawaiian culture in the face of dilution from modern society and "tourist" marketing.

In 1978, Eddie joined the Polynesian Voyaging Society expedition (reference: Wikipedia: Polynesian Voyaging Society), which sought to confirm and re-establish 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, roughly 12 miles south of Molokai, the boat became caught in a freak storm and capsized, miles from any traffic lanes.

Eddie, in response to the situation, repeatedly volunteered to unleash his surfboard from the canoe and paddle to Lanai to find help. He believed that he had the strength to make the distance, and that he had a spiritual connection to the ocean that would protect him. The expedition's leader denied his requests. Finally, on Eddie's 3rd request, he relented. Eddie promptly mounted his surfboard and began paddling through the storm.

He was never seen 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 since his disappearance, the story of Eddie Aikau has become a legend, and the legend a modern myth. His name is now a part of Hawaiian lore, and is used as a mantra for courage and power by islanders from all walks of life. 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, particularly Ironman, traces part of its origins to Hawaii. Ironman began in Oahu, and grew into international prominence on the Kona Coast of the island of Hawai'i. In honor of Ironman's Hawaiian roots, competitors to Kona would do well call upon Eddie's memory.

Eddie's story reflects Hawaii's culture of spiritual reverence, and his life holds lessons for anyone regarding Hawaiian values for living. Eddie, in other words, is Hawaii. Eddie was about faith in the divine and devotion to heritage. He was also about courage and a connection to the mana of the natural world. These are the kind of things of particular relevance for anyone doing Ironman, especially in Hawaii.

So to those of you at Kona, remember that whenever you're seized by fear at the start of a swim wave, reflect on the meaning of the words: Eddie would go.

Whenever you're numb pondering the prospect of the bike ride, remind yourself: Eddie would go.

Whenever you're staggering, and wondering if you should even begin the run, tell yourself: Eddie would go.

No matter what the conditions, no matter how tough the terrain, no matter how tough things get, no matter the challenge, commit it to yourself: Eddie would go.

In the nam
e of Ironman, just remember: EDDIE WOULD GO.

1 comment:

Trihardist said...

That is amazingly relevant. This story shows how fitting it is that our sport grew up on Hawai'i.