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With the sun setting over the Wai‘anae Mountains, Waimea Bay looks like a blue jewel carved into the jagged coastline of O‘ahu’s North Shore. Looking down from the heiau on the cliffs above the Bay, you can see a crescent moon of white sand encircling its darkening waters. For most of the year, the Bay is quiet and calm like a sleeping giant, but each winter it awakes in a violent assault of huge waves. Large rock formations stand like warriors at each end of the Bay, clashing with the incoming swells in explosions of whitewater. From the landing of the first Western ships to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the history of Hawai‘i is reflected in the water of the Bay and its changing temperament.Walking among the stone ruins of the heiau above the Bay, you can feel the presence of the people who once worshipped and prepared for war here. Eddie’s story is intricately tied to the history of his people and the life of the ‘aina or land. He wandered through the same hills where his ancestor Hewahewa once roamed. In the early 1800’s, Hewahewa ruled over the entire valley as the chief kahuna, just as Eddie would later watch over the Bay as the head lifeguard. Though generations apart, they both saw Hawai‘i go through enormous changes with each new wave of immigrants flooding its shores. One saw the demise of his culture, while the other saw its revival a century and a half later.In the orange light of late afternoon, the heiau overlooking the Bay and the green valley behind it appear timeless and pristine. Except for a few emblems of modern civilization—the square tower of St. Peter and St. Paul Mission on the eastern cliff, a few houses on the point and a lone lifeguard stand on the beach—you can almost imagine what it looked like more than two hundred years ago when Captain Cook and the first Westerners ‘discovered’ what they called the Sandwich Islands in 1778. When his ships landed in Hawai‘i, Cook marveled at the tropical beauty of this remote island chain in the middle of the Pacific and the thriving civilization he found there. He had heard chants in Tahiti that mentioned these mystical islands, but he didn’t know if they really existed. When Cook encountered the native people, he asked for provisions in the language of the Tahitians and was amazed how they welcomed him and understood his requests. Cook was confounded by how many similarities they shared with the natives he had encountered in Tahiti and throughout Polynesia. They were big people, some over seven feet tall, with the same dark features and many of the same words and food staples. The physical, linguistic and cultural similarities led him to believe that these people had migrated across the Pacific and formed the “most extensive nation on earth.” But it was unclear to him how they could have traveled such vast distances across the world’s largest ocean in their small sailing canoes. It seemed impossible without large ships or Western instruments like the compass, quadrant and timepiece. How did they ever arrive and settle in Hawai‘i? It was a mystery he would never solve.Throughout their travels in the Pacific, Cook and his men were surrounded by thousands of natives who swam, sailed and paddled their canoes to visit the foreign ships. He realized that these people practically lived in the ocean, depending on the sea for their food, transportation and play. Most Europeans of the time could not swim and feared that the ocean was full of dragons, but for these people it was home. He witnessed such rare sights as canoe surfing, but only in Hawai‘i did the riders stand up on boards and “walk on water,” as the later missionaries would describe it. Watching a native ride the waves in an outrigger canoe, Cook had once written in his journals, “I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven on so fast and so smoothly by the sea.”With his pale skin and tall ships, Captain Cook may have been mistaken for the Hawaiian god Lono when he first arrived in Hawai‘i, but his divine aura quickly diminished when he began trading and dealing with the locals. After he held a Big Island chief ransom for some items that had been stolen from his ship, the chief’s warriors attacked and killed Captain Cook, along with four of his men. Fearful of a native uprising, Cook’s badly shaken crew quickly set sail for O‘ahu, stopping to rest and recover in Waimea Bay’s seemingly tranquil and peaceful waters. Four years later, one of Cook’s officers returned to Waimea. When Captain Vancouver’s ship, the Daedalus, landed at the Bay in 1793, bringing another wave of haole explorers, a skirmish erupted between the sailors and the natives on the shore. Two crew members were killed and supposedly sacrificed by warriors at the heiau. Having established a more powerful presence in the Islands, Vancouver then demanded the killers be punished. Two Hawaiian natives, most likely not the culprits, were brought on board the ship and immediately shot. After this fateful collision of worlds, Hawai‘i would never be the same.Like the huge swells that roll into Waimea Bay each winter, waves of Westerners began landing on Hawai‘i’s shores. With the help of haole advisors and their guns, the great warrior chief Kamehameha I conquered O‘ahu and united the Hawaiian Islands in 1795. Pleased by his conquest, the new King gave his kahuna nui (chief advisor) Hewahewa dominion over the Waimea heiau and the lush valley that stretched from the mountains to the sea. Hewahewa had been in charge of honoring and appeasing the war god Ku and enforcing the kapu system, the set of ancient laws and taboos that governed Hawai‘i’s people. But with each wave of haole sailors and merchants from America and Europe, the infusion of alcohol, guns and germs violently transformed Hawaiian culture. The ruling chiefs began to question the old ways and structure of their society. After the death of King Kamehameha, his widow Ka‘ahumanu, his favorite of 21 wives, and his son Liholiho took control and decided to abandon the old gods and social kapus. They had seen how the Westerners were not affected by their kapus, like those that forbade men and women from eating together or restricted their interaction with the ali‘i. In one of the most incredible coincidences of Hawaiian history, they ordered the kahunas to destroy the heiaus and burn all the wooden idols, just months before the first Christian missionaries arrived. This created a spiritual void that the new religion would soon fill. It is said that Hewahewa complied because he could foresee the coming of the missionaries. He even sent a messenger to the royal family’s home near the shore, saying, “O heavenly one, the new God will soon land yonder.”Supposedly gifted with the power to see the future, Hewahewa believed it would be useless to fight the onslaught of Western forces and the white man’s God; so he embraced the new ways and shunned the practice of most ancient rituals. The powerful kahuna even tried to become a Christian and wrote a chant in honor of the missionaries when their ship, the Thaddeus, arrived in 1820. In the chant, he told his people, “Pray, with reverence to Jehovah,/ As a mighty kahuna of the island.” When Ka‘ahumanu and many of the ruling chiefs converted to Christianity not long after, the kapu system and the kahunas eventually gave way to Western laws and missionary influence. But Hewahewa later became disillusioned with the Christian priests and their lack of magic, apparently disappointed the missionaries could not cure the sick or raise the dead. He saw his people embracing the new religion and the Western ways while losing their land and customs. This was the twilight hour of Hawaiian culture, and legend says Hewahewa predicted the dawn of a new age when a renaissance of traditional values and culture would awaken in his people. When he died, his bones were hidden deep in the valley where no one would disturb them.During the 1800’s, O‘ahu and the other Hawaiian Islands were overrun with foreigners from all over the world, including sailors, merchants, whalers, missionaries, businessmen and migrant field hands. During the Great Mahele of 1848, King Kamehameha III was persuaded by haole advisors to let the Islands be divided and sold into private ownership, a concept that was completely foreign to most Hawaiians. In their culture, there was no such thing as ownership of any part of nature because it was sacred—people could live on the land and take care of it, but they could not own it. That would be like claiming the sky or the ocean. The kingdom was divided among the monarchy, the ali‘i and the common people. But eventually wealthy businessmen and planters bought most of the land at dirt-cheap prices, and the natives were often evicted from their native soil. Many Hawaiians became homeless in their own homeland, forced to eke out a living on plantations, settlements or in the city. Sugar and pineapples became the cash crops, as plantations spread across the Islands like a dark shadow.As the haole planters and businessmen gained more power, they began exerting increasing influence over the Hawaiian monarchy, while pushing for American annexation of the Islands. King Kalakaua decided to reassert his royal powers by building the costly ‘Iolani Palace, where he held Hawai‘i’s first coronation, which was followed by two weeks of elaborate celebrations. Known for his lavish style and love of the arts, King Kalakaua was called the “Merry Monarch” because he helped start a revival of Hawaiian music and dance. He and his sister Princess Lydia Lili‘uokalani were talented musicians and songwriters, and her song “Aloha ‘Oe” became Hawai‘i’s most popular anthem. Both were loved by the Hawaiian people but resented by the Western establishment of educators, missionaries and powerful planters. In 1887, an armed insurrection led by a haole political group forced the King to sign what came to be called the “Bayonet Constitution,” severely limiting the monarch’s powers and the rights of the Hawaiian people. He lived for a few more years as a royal figurehead, hosting grand balls and parties, and then died on a trip to San Francisco. Hawai‘i’s last king was followed by his sister, who became the kingdom’s last monarch.When Queen Lili‘uokalani came into power, she was committed to restoring the power of the monarchy and the rights of the Hawaiian people. The Queen tried to regain political control of the Islands by creating a new constitution, but she was soon overthrown by a group of wealthy, American businessmen, many of whom were descendants of the original missionaries. Backed by 160 U.S. Marines, the anti-royalist and pro-annexation forces launched a bloodless coup in 1898. They established a provisional government and later formed a Republic, with planter and missionary son Sanford Dole as its president. Hawai‘i’s last Queen was forced to abdicate her throne and later put under house arrest at ‘Iolani Palace, where she wrote, “I yield to the superior force of the United States of America to avoid any collision of armed forces and perhaps the loss of life.” Her later attempts to convince Washington to return her kingdom proved futile.The Republic was eventually annexed as a territory of the United States. But generations later, Eddie’s grandparents and parents would not learn this version of history in school—like most Hawaiians, they were taught that the Queen had voluntarily given up power to the new Republic. By this time, Hawaiians were not allowed to speak their native language in school, and their chants and customs were looked down upon. (Ironically, though the missionaries had helped suppress many native traditions, they also helped preserve much of Hawai‘i’s oral history by creating a Hawaiian alphabet and recording the people’s stories, genealogies and myths.) Many locals were ashamed of their culture and wanted to be American, with all the wealth and rights that entailed. Meanwhile, the number of Native Hawaiians had dwindled to a fraction of their original population, due to the onslaught of foreign diseases and chronic health and social problems. It’s estimated that there were more than 800,000 Hawaiians in the Islands when Captain Cook arrived, but by the next century, they had dwindled to less than 40,000. Like many of the indigenous plants and animals that had become extinct, the Hawaiian people seemed to be a dying breed. Waimea’s once thriving valley had been almost completely abandoned by the midtwentieth century.Because of its strategic location in the middle of the Pacific, Hawai‘i became a key military post for the U.S., as well as a playground for the rich and famous. Most of the Pacific naval fleet was stationed at Pearl Harbor, and American G.I.’s and tourists could mingle with movie stars and corporate tycoons down at Waikiki Beach. As battles raged in Europe and Asia, isolationist groups in America were determined to stay out of a world war. But all that was about to change. In their book Waikiki, Paul Berry and Edgy Lee write that “On the evening of Saturday, December 6, 1941, military officers were having a Christmas party at the Royal Hawaiian,” the luxurious pink hotel at the center of Waikiki. Meanwhile, “Offshore a Japanese submarine hovered close enough to hear the music.” Early the next morning, Japanese planes descended on O‘ahu in one of the most devastating surprise attacks in history. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Hawai‘i suddenly became the center of the Second World War’s raging battles in the Pacific Theater. The sleeping giant had awoken, and many Hawaiians like Eddie’s father Sol eagerly joined the call to fight for their country—even though they were not considered official U.S. citizens. Struggling with their conflicted identity, they were torn between their Hawaiian roots and American dreams. Into this spiritually divided land, Eddie was born just after the war.
Conceived during the last year of World War II, Edward Ryan Makua Hanai Aikau came into the world during the first year of peace. He was born in Kahului, Maui on May 4, 1946 to Solomon and Henrietta Aikau. His father Sol was a strong Hawaiian man with a husky voice and a commanding presence that made him seem much taller than his 5' 9? frame. Henrietta was shy by nature, but there was a quiet strength beneath her soft, comforting features. Sol had been a private first-class in the Army when he met Henrietta, who said he remained a private because he was always getting into fights. When they first started dating, it caused a rift between the two families because she was a devout Catholic of mixed Hawaiian heritage and he was a Mormon of pure Hawaiian blood. But when Henrietta became pregnant with their first son Freddie, they decided to get married and start their own family. Sol converted to Catholicism, and they were wed by the priest in the local church. They settled down in a small house on a dusty road near the Kahului Railroad Company, where Sol worked as a driver and stevedore. Shortly after their son Frederick was born, he and Henrietta had a girl named Myra. Within six years, they had had four more boys—Edward, Gerald, Solomon III and Clyde. The Aikaus lived on a dirt road in a small compound of houses across from the Kahului Harbor called Rawfish Camp, which has since been replaced by expensive condos. They lived near the ocean and in the shadow of Haleakala, the majestic volcano whose name means “house of the sun.” When the sun rose behind the cloud-covered volcanic peak each morning, the Aikau household would erupt with the sounds of six young kids.Stem at times, “Pops,” as he came to be called, raised Eddie and his siblings with all the discipline of his Army days. He marched them to church, inspected their outfits and yelled at the boys if they picked on Myra or fought with each other. But Pops also had a lighter side, and he was passionate about watersports. He loved playing in the ocean with his kids, who learned to swim soon after they could walk. In contrast to her husband, Henrietta hardly ever raised her voice with her kids, but a disapproving look from her kind eyes was enough to set them straight. She enjoyed their outings to the beach, but she was a little afraid of the ocean. Music was her passion, and she would often play the ukulele and sing for her children, lulling them to sleep with old Hawaiian songs.The third of six children, Eddie was small like his father and quiet like his mother. But he was an active boy and soon became the unofficial leader of the troop. Growing up in a family obsessed with watersports and music, Eddie was the first to start surfing and playing the guitar, and the others quickly followed his lead. Myra learned to sing and play the ukulele from her mother. A slightly pudgy boy with a big heart, Freddie was not as musical or athletic. As the oldest, it was his duty to watch over his younger brothers, who used to gang up against him in play-fights. Gerry, Sol and Clyde struggled to keep up with Eddie. Describing him as “the leader, the Elvis Presley of the gang,” Clyde says Eddie loved playing games. Whether they were chasing each other along the beach or racing in a swim contest, Eddie pushed himself the hardest and usually won. This may have been compensation for the fact that he was also the smallest of the boys and the darkest. He was always self-conscious of the fact that his brothers had called him “popolo,” referring to the dark-colored popolo berries and the Hawaiian term for Negro. Though the Islands were known for their ethnic diversity and intermingling, there was still an underlying racist hierarchy, and blacks were just below Hawaiians on the social and economic ladder. Though he had hardly ever seen a black person, Eddie didn’t like being called popolo and was acutely aware of his dark skin color. Being a dark Hawaiian was not a source of pride for many local families who had been influenced by the prejudice of the day. Many of the more powerful Hawaiians were those with fairer skin who had married into the white establishment.Despite the teasing and competition, there was not a lot of animosity between the brothers, mostly because Pops forbid it. Each month Pops would gather everyone together for a family meeting to work out any disagreements or resentments. This was a tradition in Hawai‘i called ho‘oponopono (to make right), and no one could leave the table until the matter had been hashed out and resolved. Whenever arguments or sibling rivalries arose, these meetings helped the family deal with the divisive issues, bringing them closer together. “I think that’s the key,” Myra says. “You’ve got to talk with each other. I think that’s why it works so well in our family. My dad had that meeting every month since we were five. We’d say our prayers and then, boom, we’d talk.” If the brothers picked on Myra, they would have to apologize or face their father’s wrath. But if ‘outsiders’ teased or offended one of the family members in some way, making fun of their dark skin or old clothes, the Aikau boys were more than ready to ‘beef it out’ with them. No negotiations. Like their father, the Aikau boys established a reputation as tough scrappers, generally peaceful but with short tempers.As a stevedore, Pops operated heavy loading equipment and was considered one of the better drivers on Maui. He unloaded shipping containers, hauled sugar cane and helped construct the telephone and electric lines up the slopes of Haleakala. He was a jack of all trades, but he barely made enough to feed his growing family. In spite of their poverty, Pops managed to send his kids to St. Anthony’s Catholic School. Though Hawaiians were often looked down upon, he raised them to be proud of their heritage. A descendant of kahuna, he resented how his people had been reduced to third-class citizens in their own land. The social hierarchy could clearly be seen in the organization of the plantations that were run by the “Big Five,” a group of interlocking business interests which owned (and still control) most of the private land in Hawai‘i. These haole businessmen and their extended families were at the top of the pyramid. Many were the descendants of missionaries who came to Hawai‘i ‘to do good’ and ended up ‘doing very well’ for themselves. Below them were the Portuguese overseers and managers who watched over the field hands. Most of Hawai‘i’s major ethnic groups originally migrated here to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations, coming from China, Japan and the Philippines. The owners often pitted the different groups against each other to prevent them from organizing a labor union. With each wave of new immigrants, the previous ethnic group moved up a little higher, while the Hawaiians languished near the bottom. But Pops was determined to make something of his life and do better for his kids. Like the Hawaiians of old, Pops turned to the ocean for comfort, food and a glimpse of their former glory. It was there that his ancestors had demonstrated their remarkable skills as sailors, fishermen and surfers.On weekends, Pops would take the family down to the ocean to go diving, fishing and surfing. Looking like a centipede, all six kids would help lug his heavy, old 16-foot redwood surfboard to the beach. With a gentle push from Pops, Eddie and the older boys caught their first small waves on this barge-like board, yelping with excitement as the whitewater pushed them along. Surfing had always been a traditional sport in Hawai‘i, and the Aikau boys learned to ride the waves from their father, a local rite of passage like learning to ride a bike. Pops also taught the boys how to fish and cast a net, while Momma Aikau and Myra picked opihi from the rocks and seasoned the little snail-like creatures. They would gather driftwood to start a fire on the beach, cook the catch of the day and then “talk story,” as the locals say.These family outings established an enduring relationship with the ocean, and any financial problems or domestic pressures were usually washed away in its clear, blue waters. Eddie spent as much time as he could in the ocean, swimming, diving and exploring the silent world below the surface. He would see sea turtles, eels and all kinds of fish. Thin needlefish, fat pufferfish and colorful butterflyfish. Each spring during their mating season, he would see humpback whales breaching off the coast of Maui, playfully leaping out of the sea and landing in an explosion of water. Occasionally, Eddie would see sharks ominously cruising in the distance, but he was taught not to be afraid of them or any other creatures in the sea. The water’s warm, sensual embrace was as soft and comforting as a woman’s touch, and it was the beginning of Eddie’s lifelong love affair with the ocean.In 1958, the year before Hawai‘i became the 50th state, Pops debated whether he should move the family from Maui to O‘ahu. Though the Islands remained a U.S. Territory, O‘ahu was rapidly being transformed from an agricultural backwater into a crucial economic center because the business community, the military and the tourism industry were all concentrated there. The Aikaus enjoyed living on Maui, where they had relatives and good friends, but Pops was barely making enough to support his family. Hearing of better economic opportunities on O‘ahu, he decided to apply for a job as a stevedore down at Honolulu’s shipping yards. It would be a big change, leaving the rural lifestyle of Maui for the city life of Honolulu, but he felt the move would be worth it. Myra was devastated and cried for weeks about leaving her friends and grandparents behind. The Aikau boys didn’t seem to mind moving because they were best friends and would remain together.With their six children in tow, Pops and Henrietta packed up their meager belongings and boarded an inter-island ferry called the Maui Queen to start a new life in Honolulu. Having never left Maui before, the kids were anxious yet excited about the move. As the ferry pulled away, they took one last look at the sugar cane fields waving in the distance. Maui had been a magical place to grow up, an hourglass-shaped island where Eddie had spent the first fourteen years of his life. A rural land of rainbows, waterfalls and volcanoes. As they crossed the rough waters of the channel, Eddie watched the cloud-covered peak of Haleakala fade behind them as O‘ahu’s green-covered mountains and city skyline came into focus. Staring hypnotically into the wake of whitewater rushing by the side of the boat and the deep blue water beyond, the quiet fourteen-year-old boy probably wondered what kind of future awaited him on the new island.Their first year on O‘ahu was rough as the family tried to find a permanent place to live and adjust to life in the city. Social and political changes were reshaping the landscape. On March 12, 1959, Hawai‘i finally gained statehood. The local parades and celebrations were soon followed by an infusion of federal funding for new roads, schools and buildings. Honolulu was fast becoming a major metropolitan city with a population of almost half a million. Most residents celebrated statehood and the ensuing economic development, but some Hawaiians felt like their culture would be lost in the general rush to become “Americanized.” Reverend Dr. Abraham Akaka expressed his people’s concerns in a sermon given the day after Hawai‘i became the 50th state. In front of a packed congregation at the historic Kawaiha‘o Church, the charismatic preacher said, “There are some of us to whom statehood brings great hopes, and there are some to whom statehood brings silent fears. One might say that the hopes and fears of Hawai‘i are met in statehood today. There are fears that statehood will motivate economic greed toward Hawai‘i, that it will turn Hawai‘i into a great big spiritual junkyard filled with smashed dreams and worn-out illusions.”Many of the fears Rev. Akaka mentioned were deeply rooted in a lingering resentment of how Hawaiian culture had been co-opted by outside forces and influences. To most Americans on the mainland, Hawai‘i was still more of a tourist destination and military outpost than a state. Life in the Islands evoked romantic images of hula girls and grass huts, and the tourism industry promoted these popular stereotypes. Ukuleles, Hawaiian music and aloha shirts became the rage on the mainland. Visitors flocked to Waikiki for vacation, looking for a fabricated image of some exotic paradise. But life for most locals was much harder and more complex. Still, local Christian families like the Aikaus embraced the change and the promise of the American Dream. Rev. Akaka summed up their feelings at the end of his sermon. “Since the coming of the missionaries in 1820, the name of God to our people has been aloha,” he said. “In other words, aloha is God. Aloha is the power of God seeking to unite what is separated in the world—the power that unites heart with heart, soul with soul, life with life, culture with culture, race with race, nation with nation.”In spite of their poverty, Pops worked hard to make sure his family had enough to eat and a decent place to live. He secured a free residence next to a Chinese graveyard in Pauoa Valley, in exchange for working as the cemetery’s caretaker. A lush piece of land filled with mango, banana and guava trees, the Chinese graveyard was surrounded by beautiful views of Punchbowl Crater in front and the Ko‘olau Mountains behind. With their brood of rambunctious kids, Pops and Momma Aikau brought new life to the graveyard. Moving from a small, rural area of several thousand to a large city with more than half a million people had been traumatic for the family. They had never seen so many cars, traffic lights and tall buildings. But the cemetery was hidden back in the valley, away from the city, and soon became the family’s sanctuary, their own little piece of country in town.For the first few months, the kids were frightened about living in a graveyard, surrounded by death, with old tombstones sticking out of the grass like crooked teeth. But they eventually grew accustomed to their new surroundings. Sitting in the graveyard more than forty years later, Eddie’s brother Sol has fond memories of that time. A large man with gray hair pulled back in a ponytail, he has two tattoos on his thick brown arms that say, “Eddie Boy” and “Chale,” the names of his two sons who died. Speaking in a raspy voice from years of hard living and constant smoking, Sol remembers playing in the cemetery with his siblings. “At first it was kinda scary, but then over the years it became like living next to a playground or a big park. Besides being brothers and sister, we were all best friends and did everything together. I remember when we were kids in the graveyard and we would play hide and go seek at night, and Eddie would make like one of the stones, and we wouldn’t see him. Or he would climb in the mango tree, and he was so dark it was hard to see him.” Eddie could hide better than anyone, and as hard as his siblings searched, they couldn’t find him.As they grew older, the boys began to work in the cemetery, cutting the grass and tending the graves. Their childhood games turned into adolescent chores and pranks. Death became part of the daily business of living. “We were the caretakers, and we had to maintain the graveyard and keep it looking nice,” Sol says. “Maintaining of the graveyard was rent. The Yee King Tong Society owned the place. After so many years, Chinese tradition is that you dig the bodies out of the ground and put ’em into the crocks inside the mausoleum. People would clean them up and put them into crocks inside the bone house, which is like their temple. It’s a building with shelves, and on the shelves are the crocks, and in the crocks, there’s the bones. And as kids, we would go in there and play with them. We would take the skulls out and scare each other with them. We would always play tricks like carry each other’s beds into the bone house so they would wake up in there; or we’d carry their bed and put it in the middle of the graveyard.” Imagine waking up from a disturbing dream and seeing a skull at the foot of your bed or headstones all around you in the darkness.The Aikau compound was centrally located between the four centers of activity in the family and the community. Blessed Sacrament, the Catholic church where they attended Mass each Sunday, was right down the hill. Papakolea, the Hawaiian homestead land where friends lived, was just up the street. Roosevelt High, where the kids went to school, was a long walk down the road. And of course, Waikiki Beach was just a few miles and a short drive away. Waikiki was their favorite place, and the family spent countless hours camped at the beach where they would swim, surf and fish.During the first years of statehood, times were financially tough for the Aikaus, but they were happy and thankful for their new home in the graveyard. Since then, Clyde has gone on to become a successful businessman with his beach concession stands in Waikiki and other ventures. In fact, he recently bought two new homes in Waimanalo on the other side of the Island, one for his wife and son and one for his sister. But he frequently returns to their old home in the graveyard, which the family still takes care of. No one lives in the silent, run-down houses on the property, but they stay there occasionally and gather there for family meetings. Though no longer poor, Clyde recalls the lean times of his youth with nostalgia. “We come from a real poor family. All we had when we were kids was rice, sugar and cream. That was our diet. We had no money to buy meat, hamburgers, hotdogs, nothing. In the morning, it was two slices of bread and that’s it. We used to eat lunch by climbing the trees and eating coconuts and mangos and guavas, and we were happy. I’ve got some money now, a couple of houses I own, but I’ll tell you those years when you got nothing seem to be some of the happiest. How much money do you really need to make you happy?”“We were brought up very poor,” Myra says, but the family stuck together and made the most of their situation. Like her brothers, she turned to the beach for work and play. An ocean recreation specialist for the City and County of Honolulu, Myra teaches swimming, surfing and lifeguard training to local kids. She looks like Sol and has the unmistakable features of an Aikau: dark skin, wavy hair, a solid build and a husky laugh. Myra chuckles at the memory of how poor they were and how her mom once told her that a can of soup or sardines was enough to feed the entire family. But like the multitudes at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, they had faith that they would always be fed. She remembers a time when one of her brothers brought home a friend for lunch, and there was not enough food to go around. So Pops just did without, saying he had to get back to work. But Myra knew how hungry her father was and looked outside the window to see him eating fruit from a tree. She says taking care of guests and feeding the hungry were important parts of their culture and Christian upbringing. “My parents were very religious. We went to Mass every Sunday, whether we wanted to or not. We did everything together. My parents always wanted to keep us together.” Pops raised the family with a combination of religion, discipline and a deep respect for Hawaiian culture, including surfing, music and luaus. But work at the graveyard always came first.Digging graves was a welcome chance to earn some cash for the family. Sol says the Yee King Tong Society would sometimes “hire people from the mortuary to bury their members or dig them up again.” Often, Chinese families would have their relatives’ bones disinterred and shipped back to their ancestral homeland. “We wanted the job because we were poor,” Sol continues. “When we were younger, we would bury people for extra money. We would dig the hole, my dad and all of us boys, and then on Sunday when they came, we would bury them. We put ‘em to rest. My dad would get paid a few hundred dollars, and that went a long way for the house. We did that quite often when we were little. That was a lot of money, $400 or $500. After that, Dad would buy barbecue—that was a big treat. Sometimes, we had to bury people when the surf was up, and that was torture.” Leaning on their shovels on a bright Sunday afternoon, the boys would stand a respectful distance away and watch the grieving family and friends gathered around the pit they had dug. Sweating in the heat, their minds drifting away like the prayers and incense of the Chinese burial service, they would dream of surfing the cool, blue waves of Waikiki only a few miles away. When the service was finally over and the last limousine had pulled away, Eddie and his brothers would quickly start shoveling dirt into the pit. They desperately hoped to make it down to the beach for a few late afternoon waves before the sun sank below the horizon.“Growing up, my parents were always very strict with us,” Myra says. “We all had to do our chores before we could do anything else. If the boys didn’t do their chores, they didn’t go to the beach. Even if they knew the surf was going to be huge, Pop wouldn’t let them go until they finished their chores.” In the early days, the Aikau boys had to use crescent-shaped sickle blades and work all day in the hot sun to cut all five acres of grass in the graveyard. Later, when they were able to afford a lawn mower, they could do the job in less than half the time. Myra says when the waves were really good, “What Eddie would do is get up at 2:00 am, turn on the car headlights, mow the lawn and work through the night so he could go surf in the morning.” Pops could be very disciplined and deadly serious with the kids, but once all the work was done, it was time to have fun.After church and chores, the whole family would go to the beach. Eddie and his brothers began paipo-boarding at the Wall in Waikiki. Unable to afford surfboards, a valuable commodity in those days, the Aikau boys and most local kids created their own homemade plywood boards. Loosely modeled after the carved, wooden planks the Hawaiian commoners used to ride, these paipo boards were the early precursors to the spongy Morey Boogie Boards which would eventually become the most popular in the world. In the 60’s, paipo-boarding was the rage, and Eddie became hooked. After kicking to catch the waves, he would ride them on his stomach, trying to stay just ahead of the crashing whitewater. As he got better, he rode them on his knees, and eventually, he stood up. “If you could stand up on a paipo board, you were the king, and Eddie mastered that in six months,” Clyde says. After becoming experts in the art of paipo-boarding at the Wall, Eddie and his brothers were ready to start surfing at Queens, just up the beach in Waikiki. This was the birthplace of modern surfing. After nearly fading out of existence in the 1800’s, the sport had enjoyed a robust revival at the turn of the century.
Prior to Western contact, surfing had been one of the most popular sports in the Islands. Almost everyone took part in what they called he‘e nalu or wave-sliding: men and women, young and old, chiefs and commoners. During the best swells, almost all work stopped as the people headed to the beach to ride the waves. The ruling ali‘i excelled at the sport, and they had their own special beaches and wooden surfboards, some of which were more than sixteen feet long. Unburdened by the daily labor of fishing and farming, they were free to surf as often as they liked. King Kamehameha and his wife Ka‘ahumanu were said to be excellent canoe paddlers and surfers who loved being together on the ocean. One of their favorite games and contests involved catching waves in an outrigger canoe and then jumping with their heavy boards onto a cresting wave, which they would then ride to the shore. According to anthropologist Dr. Ben Finney, this was quite a feat, as their boards often weighed over one hundred pounds. “They were a majestic aristocracy, often taller, broader, and stronger than the commoners. Their status as leaders depended, in part, on their strength and stamina.”After epidemics of measles and small pox decimated the Hawaiian population, many cultural practices like surfing went into decline. To add insult to injury, the missionaries also condemned the sport’s lack of “modesty, industry and religion.” They preached against the immorality of men and women surfing and competing together in such “scanty costumes,” condeming the sexual freedom and betting practices associated with the sport. Surfing’s popularity took a nose dive over the next century. By the time Mark Twain visited the Islands in the 1860’s, only the most dedicated natives still surfed in Waikiki. Like most visitors, Twain was intrigued with the sport and wanted to give it a try. But he wasn’t so lucky. “I tried surfbathing once, subsequently, but made a failure of it,” he wrote in his humorous description. “I got the board placed right, and at the right moment, too; but missed the connection myself. The board struck the shore in threequarters of a second, without any cargo, and I struck the bottom about the same time, with a couple barrels of water in me.” After nearly drowning that day, Twain concluded, “None but the natives ever master the art of surfbathing thoroughly.”By the beginning of the 20th century, there was renewed interest in the sport. When Jack London first went surfing in Waikiki in 1907, he was hooked. Calling it “a royal sport for the natural kings of earth,” he wrote about the Hawaiians’ agility in the waves and how the best surfers were either ali‘i or at least treated like royalty. London published his accounts about the wonders of surfing in a widely read journal of the time. Soon after, the sport’s popularity began to surge again, and watermen like Alexander Hume Ford and George Freeth put on popular surfing events in California. But no one was more influential in promoting the sport than Hawai‘i’s Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, “the father of modern surfing.” Known as the fastest swimmer in the world, he was equally famous for his surfing feats. During one of the biggest swells to hit the South Shore, it was said he caught one of the longest waves ever ridden. Standing on his big redwood board, he rode a wave almost a mile long. It was the stuff of legends, and local kids like Eddie and his brothers would argue about how big the wave was, where he caught it and how long he rode it.Duke and his five brothers had helped make Waikiki famous, and they personified the spirit of the place. They met visiting celebrities and tourists down at the docks, welcomed them to the Islands with leis and showed them the best Hawai‘i had to offer. Good looking and outgoing, these Hawaiian watermen taught their guests how to surf and paddle outrigger canoes during the day and then escorted them to scrumptious luaus at night. Stationed on the beach in front of the Moana Hotel and the Royal Hawaiian, the oldest and most elegant resorts in Waikiki, these beach boys acted as local hosts, tour guides, musicians and evening escorts for visiting VIP’s. Many became lifelong friends with their wealthy guests who took them on trips around the world. In fact, Sam Kahanamoku even became the paramour of Doris Duke, the world’s richest woman. He had been the caretaker of her Diamond Head mansion called Shangri-la, and she later bought him a house nearby. The wealthy tobacco heiress and the local beach boy became the talk of the town, from New York to Honolulu.By the time Eddie and his brothers started surfing, Duke and his brothers were already old men, decades past their prime. But they were still legendary figures, surfing, paddling and sailing in the waters off of Waikiki. Though he was just a poor Hawaiian kid, Eddie hoped that eventually he and his brothers would become well-known watermen like the Kahanamokus. What they lacked in money, they would earn in respect.When the Aikau boys graduated from paipo-boarding to surfing, they evolved from riding the waves on their stomachs and knees to standing face to face with the wave. They rented surfboards from an infamous beach boy named “Steamboat” Mokuahi. Steamboat and the other beach boys were known for their flirtatious ways and funny antics. Like most kids, the Aikaus got a kick out of their outrageous stories about seducing wealthy divorcees and getting drunk with celebrities. These “perpetual adolescents,” as Michener once referred to them, dominated the scene at Waikiki, and the beach was their stage where they surfed, sang and played. These colorful characters showed uptight mainlanders how to enjoy the laidback lifestyle of the Islands. Waikiki was one big party to the beach boys, but Eddie and his brothers were more interested in surfing all day than drinking all night.Along with surfing, the Aikau brothers raced in six-man outrigger canoes in Waikiki. These canoes were the oldest method of transportation in Polynesian culture, and sports clubs like Outrigger and Hui Nalu had reintroduced them in racing competitions. Paddling for Healani Canoe Club, Eddie and his brothers enjoyed the challenge of testing their strength and endurance, qualities their ancestors had prized. During the summer, the different clubs would stage big regattas in Waikiki. Hundreds of tourists and locals would gather to watch the intense competitions as the paddlers fiercely stroked their canoes across the water. Like the Kahanamoku brothers, the Aikaus enjoyed competing and making a name for themselves. It was an exciting time, and the boys drank in the carnival atmosphere of Waikiki. They flirted with wahine (girls) from the mainland and taught them how to surf. They would show the girls how to make the shaka sign, with their thumb and pinky extended like horns, a popular gesture among Hawaiians and surfers. Occasionally, while surfing or paddling in Waikiki, they would see Woody Brown’s sleek catamaran, the Manu Kai, whipping across the sea. Modeled after ancient Polynesian voyaging canoes, the twin-hulled catamaran was considered the fastest sailboat in the world, and Eddie was intrigued with her speed and beauty.Eddie and Clyde began surfing regularly at two Waikiki breaks called Canoes and Queens, whose gentle waves were ideal for beginners and experts alike. Squatting on his knees, Eddie would paddle his rented Styrofoam and fiberglass board out into the lineup, where the surfers gathered together to catch the incoming swells. They would then sit on their boards and wait for the next set of waves. As the ocean undulated beneath him, it felt like a living, breathing mass of energy. He would watch the shearwaters gliding effortlessly across the waves, their black-tipped wings riding the currents of wind and water. He could see streams of sunlight radiating toward the ocean floor as fish darted below him. When he saw a long bump rise up on the horizon, Eddie would start paddling toward shore to catch it. When he felt the lip of the wave rise up and propel him forward, he would jump to his feet. As he dropped down the glassy face, he had to turn the board to stay just ahead of the breaking curl and rushing whitewater. The wave would hurtle him toward the shore, his board skipping across the water like a magic plane, his heart racing with excitement. There was nothing in the world like surfing. After each great ride, Eddie knew this was the best that life had to offer and that he would surf until the day he died. He belonged in the ocean.Just like today, scores of surfers of every rank gathered in Waikiki to compete for the same waves. The seasoned veterans usually surfed the bigger outside waves, while the beginners rode the smaller waves on the inside. Paddling out into these crowded surf breaks, Eddie and his brothers quickly established themselves as talented, up-and-coming surfers. But they never lost the enthusiasm of their early days. Like most surfers, Clyde vividly remembers his own first ride at Waikiki. “I caught my first wave out here at Canoes, going left, and I was so amazed by how fast I was going and how fast the water was moving by me. The feeling was so exhilarating that I never stopped after that.” The rush of that first ride was revived each time they caught a good wave. As they struggled to their feet and stood up on the board, it felt like the whole ocean was lifting them up and carrying them forward on a chariot of water.The Aikau boys were hooked on surfing and decided they had to have their own boards, no matter how much they cost. Selling newspapers and shining tourists’ shoes, Eddie and his brothers managed to save enough money to buy their first boards, which became prized possessions. Sol and Gerry surfed too, but Eddie and Clyde were clearly the most dedicated. As they grew older and more accomplished, they started competing in amateur contests and winning trophies. They graduated from Queens and began surfing in front of the marina at Ala Moana Bowls, where the waves were faster and hollower because of the shallow reefs. On weekends and afternoons, the family would often camp out at the beach. They came to be known for their aloha, generosity and family spirit. Local surfers like Sammy Lee, Ben Aipa and Gerry Lopez remember how the Aikaus took care of the boys and their friends after surfing. “We had a lot of good times at Ala Moana when we were young,” Gerry says. “Mom and Pops would be in the parking lot, and they would always have food and soda.” Whenever the South Shore was breaking, the Aikaus were there on the beach, cooking food and watching their sons surf.Yet even as a teenager, Eddie was not satisfied with the smaller waves of the South Shore. He kept yearning to ride bigger and more challenging waves. One night the family went to an outdoor amphitheater called the Waikiki Shell to watch a new surfing movie by Bud Browne, the first serious surf cinematographer. Lying out on the lawn under the stars, Eddie was hypnotized by the footage of a big-wave rider named Kealoha Kaio taking off on a huge North Shore swell. He watched in awe as Kealoha dropped down the face of the wave that was three times his height as it peeled across the large screen in slow motion. It was beautiful to see this big, graceful Hawaiian gliding across such a huge wave, so at home in the roaring surf. The crowd whistled and shouted in excitement. Staring in wide-eyed wonder, Eddie looked at his parents and said, “I’m going to catch the biggest waves ever ridden and make our name famous in the surfing world.” He was in his teens at the time, Myra recalls, “and he loved surfing. And it all came true.” Eddie was determined to make his dream a reality.Already a surf addict, Eddie began cutting school to go to the beach. In just one year, he went from being an A-student to failing the tenth grade. When Pops found out about it, he was furious. Despite their poverty and the temptation to make his kids work instead of attend school, he had insisted his children get an education. His siblings did fairly well, but Eddie just couldn’t see the relevance of his boring classes, especially when it came to learning the literature and history of the white people on the mainland. Why not study about his own people? The stifling torture of being inside a hot classroom all day could not compare to the thrill of surfing and being in the ocean. In class, he would draw pictures of peeling swells in his notebook and daydream about riding the perfect wave. A restless sixteen-year-old, he felt trapped in the stuffy confines of school and church. Having fallen in love with the sea, he longed to be in it all the time. For a waterman like Eddie, the ocean could teach him more about mana‘o (thoughts and ideas) and mana (spiritual power) than any teacher or priest.“Pops said, ‘If you’re not going to school, then you’re going to work for a living,” Myra recalls. So at the age of sixteen, Eddie dropped out of Roosevelt High School and joined the working world. He found a job at the Dole Cannery, where his older brother Freddy was a forklift operator. It was not far from where Pops worked as a stevedore down at the waterfront. Eddie traded in his books for a timecard and gave up graduation for a paycheck. He did mind-numbing work at the Cannery, where tons of pineapples were processed each day and shipped out all over the world. The huge metal pineapple that served as the Cannery’s water tower had once been one of the tallest structures in town, casting its shadow far and wide over the city. While his siblings and friends sat in class and played sports at school, Eddie was operating heavy machinery and moving endless crates of canned pineapple. It certainly wasn’t glamorous work, but at least he could help out his family financially and earn a little extra spending money. He gave most of his earnings to his parents. He eventually saved enough to buy a new surfboard, a guitar and a used car.One day, Eddie saw a bright red board in the front window of the Hobie Surf Shop, and he told his brother, “Oh, Clyde, I got to get that board.” It was a beautiful, 11-foot long, Styrofoam and fiberglass board, shaped by Dick Brewer, who would become one of the most influential designers and shapers in the business. With a thick, wooden stringer running through its length, it had a rounded nose in front, a squared-off, woodblock tail in the back and a large skeg or fin on the bottom to keep the board from sliding out on big waves. Although the family couldn’t really afford it at the time, Pops went down to the shop and talked to the shop manager Jack Shipley. He somehow convinced Shipley and the owner to give him a good deal because Eddie was already making a name for himself in the surfing world. He made them realize it would be good for the shop to have his son riding their boards in the future. Little did they know that Eddie would become famous riding this red surfboard across the mountainous waves at Waimea. Though he had fallen in love with surfing, he had only ridden the smaller swells on the South Shore. Nothing could have prepared him for the dangerous and seductive beauty of the waves on the North Shore whose power was so mighty they made the ground tremble. Only the ‘natural kings of earth’ dared to confront such a fierce force of nature.EDDIE WOULD GO: THE STORY OF EDDIE AIKAU, HAWAIIAN HERO AND PIONEER OF BIG WAVE SURFING. Copyright © 2001 by Stuart Holmes Coleman. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Posted February 27, 2012
When I was a Ocean Lifeguard my peers said I should read this book. I should have red this book a long time ago. It was well written, and is inspiring. I wonder, how much more would Eddie have done if he didn't die.
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Posted March 26, 2009
A compelling book about a compelling person and a transformative time. This is a must read for any true waterman or soul surfer.
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Posted June 4, 2008
This was a great book about an even greater man. Well written about Eddie Aikau's life, a man who rode mountainous waves and saved many lifes. I applaud this author and I give my Aloha to the Aikau family, because after reading this book I feel like I know them. This book took me back to the earlier days in Oahu, where I would give anything to go back and experience, and to also meet Eddie. 'Eddie would go!'
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