Edward Ryan Makua Hanai Aikau, commonly known as Eddie, was an ace surfer, a patriotic Hawaiian, and a good friend to everyone who knew him. During the 1970s he haunted the Waimea shore in Hawaii, and as a lifeguard saved dozens of lives. In 1978 he was chosen to be part of the crew of a recreated ancient Hawaiian canoe, the Hokule’a, on an experimental voyage.
Here is how Charley Project’s casefile describes Eddie’s disappearance which occurred in March 1978:
The crew was near the Kaiwi Channel at the time of the incident. A wave hit the canoe and its impact caused the Hokule’a to flip over. The crew members spent the night clinging to the overturned hull. No one responded to the flares they lit at the scene. Some members were doubtful that rescue efforts would arrive in time.
Aikau estimated that Lanai was approximately 12 miles away from the capsized craft. The crew’s officers agreed that he should paddle on his surfboard to locate assistance. It was impossible to gauge an accurate distance to land from the crew’s location at the time. Aikau tied his board’s leash to one of his ankles and hung a portable strobe light and oranges around his neck. He tied a life jacket around his waist before paddling away from the canoe. Several crew members saw Aikau toss the life jacket into the surf several hundred feet away from the canoe. He was last seen riding on his board as he paddled into the distance. Aikau has never been heard from again.
The Hokule’a’s remaining crew members were rescued several hours after Aikau left the scene. The largest air and sea search in Hawaiian history was initialized after authorities were unable to locate any trace of Aikau in the surf. His board and supplies were never recovered. He was presumed to have drowned at sea.
Eddie Aikau’s heroic sacrifice has gone down in legend, and Eddie remains to this day, 35 years later, a folk hero among Hawaiians and the Waimea surfing culture. The slogan “Eddie Would Go” has become part of Hawaiian popular culture. A famous surf contest was named after Eddie, and it’s one of the most anticipated events in the surfing calendar.
I made a video about Eddie Aikau. Here it is.