Book Review of "Eddie Would Go:" Eddie Aikau, Hawaiian Hero
Picking up the book Eddie Would Go at Border's in Windward mall and looking at the cover, I assumed that the book would be all about a famous surfer and how accomplished he became and all the glitz and glamour that goes along with the surf industry. Having only recently taken an interest in surfing, I had no idea who Eddie Aikau was or what significance he played in the surfing world. Little did I know that this novel would have such an impact on me. Eddie Aikau was not just a professional surfer, he embodied the spiritual and cultural oneness that surfing has with Hawaiians. Reading about this amazing individual's life and the circumstances surrounding his death, I have been moved and know that Eddie truly was a hero.
The main thesis of Coleman's book can be summarized at in the last paragraph of the prologue. He speaks of Waimea bay as it stands today, with the lifeguard tower holding the image of Eddie as he helped to save lives. He talks about the bumper stickers and the t-shirts that people wear in honor of Eddie. And at the beginning of the book he talks about the surfers that still surf to honor the memory of Eddie Aikau in the tournament held in his honor. But in a few sentences, Coleman really states how he feels about Eddie and in turn how he wants the reader to feel about Eddie upon completion of his book. Coleman states, "Few people know the intimate details and tragic events that transformed a shy local boy into an enduring cultural icon. The man has become a myth. So who was Eddie and what made him go? The answer lies in his unique relationship with his family, his people and the ocean he called home" (21). Coleman proclaims that Eddie is more than just a man or a surfer, but an enduring cultural icon, a myth, and I would argue, a hero.
1. Of A Noble Birth
Throughout the book, Coleman does an excellent job outlining the reasons why Eddie was a hero and remains this cultural icon. He starts with the divine royal or noble heritage of Eddie Aikau right at the beginning of chapter one. Many times heroes or legends are from noble birth. Hercules of ancient Greece was the son of Zeus, the king of the gods, and many other classic heroes have similar genealogical backgrounds. Coleman sets us in this frame of thinking by comparing Eddie to one of his noble ancestors, Hewahewa. He states, "Hewahewa ruled over the entire valley [Waimea] as the chief kahuna, just as Eddie would later watch over the bay as the head lifeguard" (23). Coleman then brings you down to the parents of Eddie, talking about their noble qualities, such as honor, hard work, and family kinship, creating the perfect environment for the local hero to grow up in and learn the important quality that every hero must poses: self-sacrifice. This noble background would also set Eddie apart from other would-be heroes of the surfing world because it would give him the innate ability to feel the water and become one with nature as had his ancestors before him.
2. Character Flaw
Early on in the story, Coleman establishes Eddie's major flaw. Every hero needs a major flaw because they need something to overcome, a quest per say. If a hero is already perfect then people cannot relate to them. In Homer's The Odyssey, Odysseus' major flaw is hubris or pride. Eddie's personal struggle that comes up throughout the book is that he never finished high school yet surrounded himself with "educated" people. At the age of sixteen, Coleman says that Eddie believed, "the ocean could teach him more about mana'o (thoughts and ideas) and mana (spiritual power) than any teacher or priest" (42). This would prove to be an obstacle that Eddie would have to overcome time and time again, whether in proving his competence to others, or to himself.
3. From Teachings to Actions
Another quality of a hero is that despite his humble up-bringing, Eddie was taught to be generous with everyone. This is evident in the many experiences that Coleman wishes to share throughout the book. For example, his family threw the biggest parties and everyone was invited. They took strangers into their home and made them family like Lynne Holmes and Big Bill. Also, Eddie became a great mediator in the events that caused a feud between locals and Australian surfers. Eddie was a man of integrity and one that all sides could trust, therefore, he helped end the feud on the north shore and probably saved the lives of the Australian surfers.
Saving lives is a must for a hero. Eddie Aikau is no different. For years he watched over the people of Waimea bay and probably saved thousands of lives. The thing that sets Eddie apart from many is that he sought no personal gain or recognition from saving lives; he did it because it was the right thing to do. He is quoted, saying, "A lot of times when I go out, I think, why am I sacrificing myself? Those people who are being saved are helpless. I trust myself. I think I can get out of the water. But they are helpless. I can't see a helpless person go down. I just can't stay here and do nothing" (91). Heroes save lives, and that is exactly what Eddie did, and died trying to on the Hokule'a.
4. Impossible Tasks
Heroes also accomplish impossible tasks. Eddie surfed some of the biggest waves on the north shore. He entered the Duke competition several times, never giving up, until he won the competition in 1977. He taught others how to surf the giant waves of the north Shore and traveled to far away South Africa and Australia to surf. He loved the ocean and it became a part of him, therefore, surfing was a part of him. And with impossible tasks, life is not perfect. All heroes have their share of tragedy and so did Eddie. The death of Eddie's brother Gerry and his friend Jose proved difficult emotionally and physically for Eddie.
These examples and a myriad of others that Coleman uses to illustrate the heroic actions of Eddie Aikau help the author fully support his thesis and cause the reader to view Eddie as a hero and enduring cultural icon. I loved the book and have very few critiques to the author. One is that sometimes chapters seemed to drag on long after the point was made. This sometimes got frustrating and made me think that I would never finish the book. The other is that sometimes I got lost in the chronology of the story. Chapters at times seemed to jump back and forth in time and left area of gray in the sequence of events. However, the book was well written and I truly do believe that Eddie Aikau is a hero and icon. It was all of the circumstances of his life that made him one, and his heroic death that makes Eddie live on in the memory of Waimea and his competition.