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Eddie Aikau - The Famous Lifeguard and Surfer of the North Shore

Updated on December 10, 2009
  1. Eddie’s Birth and Ancestry: Eddie was born on May 4, 1946 on the Island of Maui. He was a descendent of Kahuna Nui Hewahewa who was the highest priest of Hawaii in the 19th century. Hewahewa later became the caretaker of Waimea Bay, a place that Eddie would guard and cherish in his own way, as a lifeguard and surfer 100 years later.  Eddie later moved to Oahu with his family in 1959. 
  2. A High School Drop Out: Eddie was a high school dropout. At the age of 16, Eddie had left high school and was working in the Dole Pineapple factory, where he saved up enough money to buy his first surfboard - a Velzy. 

Eddie Aikau Surfing
Eddie Aikau Surfing

3. The First Lifeguard: In 1968, Eddie was hired by the city of Honolulu as the first lifeguard of the North Shore. He covered all of the beaches from Sunset Beach to Haleiwa Beach.

4. A True Lifesaver: Not one life was lost during his watch at the North Shore and he would often risk his life, swimming in waves between 20 and 30 feet to save surfers in danger. He saved hundreds of lives over the following three years. He was later re-appointed to the tourist spot of Waimea Bay, where his efforts continued to result in zero deaths. Without the modern day life guarding aid of the Jet Ski, Eddie relied on his own wit and intuition - he was a skilled surfer himself and understood the ways of the ocean. 

History of Life-guarding

5. A Skilled Surfer: During the 1970’s Eddie’s success as a surfer grew, he won numerous competitions including the Duke Classic in 1977.

6. The Hokule’a: Eddie became extremely interested in his Polynesian roots. In 1978, Eddie was chosen by the Polynesian Voyaging Society to join the Hokule'a, a traditional sailing canoe trip that honored the Hawaii’s Polynesian ancestry. The voyage was a 30-day event and covered 2,500 miles, covering the same route that the Polynesians had taken across the Pacific Ocean. Eddie left for the voyage on March 16th from Magic Island in Honolulu. It was the second time the trip had been attempted, but unlike the first voyage,this time there were no back-up vessels to protect the fragile canoe.

Eddie Aikau source: the honolulu advertiser
Eddie Aikau source: the honolulu advertiser

7. Danger on the Hokule’a: The traditional canoe sprouted a leak and soon capsized. Determined to save his crew, Eddie jumped on his surfboard and attempted to paddle to the island of Lanai, 12 miles east of the shipwreck. 

8. Death of a Hero:  The crew was spotted by a commercial airplane and soon rescued. Eddie disappeared into the ocean and was never seen again.

9. The Memorial Surfing Invitational: Apart from the memorial park that now exists in Waimea Bay to honor Eddie, Quicksilver began “The Quicksilver Big Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau” in 1985. The first winner of this tournament was Eddie’s borther, Clyde Aikau. In order for the tournament to be held, the waves must reach at least 30 to 40 feet. Therefore the event has only happened 7 times. The last time the event was held was in 2004, with 24 famous surfers present and waves as high as 50 feet. 

Surfing in Hawaii
Surfing in Hawaii

The Eighth Ever Quicksilver Big Tournament Wave Invitational!

On December 8th 2009, the eighth ever Quicksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau invitational took place at Waimea Bay. Waves reached between 40 and 50 feet and lasted 48-hours, making it the largest sustained surf that Hawaii had seen in 40 years. 55,000 lucky viewers gathered in Waimea bay to watch the 28 surfers brave the massive waves. The final $55,000 prize went to Greg Long, a 26 year-old from San Clemente, California who had rode Waimea for the first time that same week. This is the biggest win of his career to date and from the looks of it he will be seeing lots more success with his fearless style and skilled technique - he even managed to secure a perfect 100-point ride. 

Kelly Slater, a nine-time world champion, won second place after Long dominated in the final hour of the competition. Still pretty impressive, seeing that Kelly will be hitting his 40's in a couple of years. All in all, the event was a huge success in both the competition itself and in paying tribute to the greatest lifeguard in Hawaii's history. 

Kelly Slater - Dec, 8th 2009  Source: Yahoo News
Kelly Slater - Dec, 8th 2009 Source: Yahoo News


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    • hannahz profile image

      hannahz 8 years ago from Los Angeles

      Glad you enjoyed the article! He was an amazing life guard.

    • Carl "Fitness" profile image

      Carl "Fitness" 8 years ago from Boston, MA

      I didn't know about Eddie or about the Big Wave Invitational. Very cool story! (But very sad about Eddie's premature death.)

    • Peter Dickinson profile image

      Peter Dickinson 8 years ago from South East Asia

      Sounds like a great guy. Never heard of him before now but I respect him. Thanks.