Eddie Aikau: The Legend Grows

The Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokule’a sailed into Kualoa Beach Park earlier this week, one of several stops in the Islands as she continues the Malama Hawaii leg of her worldwide voyage.

And while local residents are enjoying an opportunity to learn more about this magnificent vessel and what it symbolizes to Hawaii and its people, the rest of the world recently had the opportunity to learn about one of Hawaii’s true legends: Eddie Aikau.


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Nainoa Thompson and the author aboard the Hokule‘a. Photo from Ron Mizutani

The story of the big wave surfer, Waimea Bay lifeguard and heroic Hokule’a crewmember was showcased on national television Oct. 1 and 2, as part of the ESPN Films’ “30 for 30” series. The popular series airs documentary films on ESPN and its sister networks and highlights people and events in the sports world that deserve a large audience. The “30 for 30” series kicked off its new season with the film Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau.

“The ESPN broadcast was good for Hawaii,” says master navigator Nainoa Thompson, who participated in the film directed by Sam George. “The Aikau family constantly works to maintain the integrity of their brother’s name, and they had seen the final product and were very happy. They really appreciated it, and the family was grateful and respectful of the outcome.”

The legend of Eddie Aikau goes far beyond any logo, poster or sticker. The 90-minute film, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City earlier this year, where it sold out in two hours, covers the life of the highly revered waterman and life-saver. Except for a few showings in Honolulu and on the Valley Isle at the Maui Film Festival, a large audience had not seen the film – until now.

“Eddie’s story is one of true inspiration,” says Thompson. “His decision, his actions, his ultimate sense of compassion, caring and kindness for his crew, and that level of courage and deep sense of purpose to save the lives of his friends. His story is about oath. He is the most extraordinary Hawaiian man ever, and this is a story for all people and cultures to understand the definition of courage and compassion. This is for the planet to see.”

The film included rare photos and footage of Aikau, along with an audio file that had never been heard by the public. What few may know is, although he participated in the film, Thompson has not seen it and says he won’t because of personal reasons.

“This is deeply, deeply personal for me; it never goes away and I will never forget,” says Thompson of the day in March 1976 when Hokule’a capsized in the Kaiwi Channel. “That moment in time in my life is so deeply profound, and it is something that I will always carry. I participated (in the film) because the family asked me to, and I will do anything for the Aikau family, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it is for me.”

Three generations watched the film in our Kailua home. It made us laugh and it made us cry, over and over again. It was done with class and respect for a great man and his family.

And now that it has been seen by millions of people on ESPN, the legend of Eddie Aikau will no doubt grow and more people are now aware of Hokule’a and its mission as it prepares to set sail on its worldwide voyage.

“I know it is a powerful film and it has the dignity and mana to be seen by millions,” says Thompson. “It is one of the most sacred stories of this place, and it is certainly world worthy.”