Eddie Aikau plays guitar
Then after a break the DJ says, "We're going to share with you folks out there a special song written by Eddie Aikau, and it's for the Hokule'a," and Eddie strums his guitar for the first time, does a halting but heartfelt spoken intro, then slides into "Hawaii's Pride," and for three minutes we're in a different world. 

Matt Warshaw on surfing’s confused relationship with “mythical Hawaiian superman” Eddie Aikau

By shaping and promoting the Eddie Aikau myth, others—Quiksilver, mostly—stood to profit greatly…

Halfway through writing about Eddie Aikau last week, I noted that his Waimea Bay memorial service, despite being announced beforehand and held on a Saturday, drew less than 1,000 people, which seems like an impossibly low turnout but the photos don’t lie. Encyclopedia of Surfing contributor John Callahan emailed back the next morning:

A memorial service held today for Eddie Aikau, if he were to pass in the same circumstances, would draw tens of thousands of people, not the small crowd that was there in 1978. I was in high school in Hawaii at the time and the difference is, in ’78 Eddie Aikau was still a human being. It was only later, thanks to Quiksilver and the Eddie big-wave contest and the marketing around him in general, that Aikau became larger than life, a mythical Hawaiian Superman, instead of a real person with flaws and faults as well as strengths.

That sounds right. That, plus the sport in general, even in Hawaii, hadn’t yet moved too deeply into the culture at large. Not deep enough to draw tens of thousands to a 9:00 AM service, anyway.

The marketing bit, as far as transforming Aikau from respected and admired big-wave surfer to a globally recognized Hawaiian icon nearly on equal footing with Duke Kahanamoku, is worth a look. 

I’m not at all saying Aikau doesn’t deserve to be so elevated. He does. 

But it’s also clear that by shaping and promoting the Eddie myth, others—Quiksilver, mostly—stood to profit greatly, and that’s just what happened. 

(Read the back half of this article, about how the spectacular 1974 Smirnoff has echoed down through the years, to get a sense of how the Aikau of legend has played out. SURFER Magazine bit so hard on the sell job that it credited Eddie himself, in 1974, for not just inspiring but more or less inventing the famous “Eddie Would Go” slogan for the Quiksilver big-wave contest. Hogwash. I’m 98% sure the slogan originated, fully formed and print-ready, at this exact momen in 1986.) 

I’ve gone way off-topic here. Just trying to underline what Callahan said, above, that at a certain point in a marketing campaign’s growth index, the actual thing at the center of the campaign becomes flatter, smaller, less detailed.

“The slogan outgrew the contest,” I wrote in 2005, “and probably even Eddie himself. It’s definitely outgrown history.”

What I really wanted to get into here today is the last year or so of Eddie’s life, when he was still very much a real person, albeit a real person getting pulled, hard, in several directions at once. 

In 1973, Gerald Aikau, Eddie’s handsome and popular younger brother, almost certainly suffering from PTSD following a difficult but decorated two-year tour in Vietnam, died in a single-car accident while driving home from a party at the Aikau house. 

As late as 1976, Eddie was still feeling undone from the loss. 

Meanwhile, and probably related to Gerald’s death, Eddie’s marriage to Seattle-raised Linda Crosswhite was quietly falling apart. Eddie drank more than he used to, sometimes didn’t come home, and would on occasion spend the night at Gerald’s grave. 

As Clyde Aikau later put it, brother Eddie was going through “some heavy personal trips.” 

Jumping ahead a bit on the timeline, Eddie was also said to have become convinced, right before setting out on the fateful Hokule’a voyage, that he would die at sea. At one point he had his sister-in-law cut his hair in the graveyard near the family compound, where he told her he had a feeling he would not be coming back.

Clyde later pushed back on the idea that Eddie had a death wish or some kind of premonition. 

“He always anticipated the worst,” Clyde told biographer Stuard Holmes Coleman.” 

The pre-journey nerves, he continued, were the result of Eddie’s cautious nature—which sounds odd, considering we’re talking about a man who was and is synonymous with extreme big-wave surfing, but maybe not. 

“My brother didn’t take chances,” said Clyde. 

He studied conditions and absolutely knew what he was capable of, and when to draw the line. But Eddie had no say in the timing or execution of the Hokule’a trip, and the whole thing was absolutely a chance-taking venture, and this may have been what had him so on edge.

But let’s turn this around. 

Start looking for evidence that Eddie was not fully embedded on the dark side in the years after Gerald’s death, and things pop up all over the place.

Aikau stepped in to smooth things out following the infamous “Bustin’ Down the Door” beat-downs on the North Shore in late 1976, for starters. 

(While a peacemaker at heart, according to all who knew him well, Eddie was himself not above violence; he and Clyde, both excluded from the 1970 Expression Session invite list, gate-crashed the event’s kickoff Good Karma Party with fists swinging.) 

Aikau noticeably upped his game on the North Shore in 1977—at the time, an unheard-of thing for a surfer in his 30s to do—and at the end of the year, in big premium-grade waves at Sunset Beach, he won the Duke Classic, beating Mark Richards, Dane Kealoha, and Wayne Bartholomew in the finals.

Six weeks later, Eddie was on the front page of the Honolulu Advertiser, above the fold, dropping into a huge one, with a headline reading “Waimea Roars Again.” 

Eddie Aikau on the cover of The Honolulu Advertiser.
Eddie Aikau on the cover of The Honolulu Advertiser.

He would have been feeling great, too, about Kimo Hollinger’s recent full-length SURFER Magazine feature titled, “Pop: the Family Aikau,” which centered not on Eddie or Clyde—the famous Aikaus—but the tough bandy-legged patriarch, Soloman, who everybody called Pop. The Steve Wilkings shot that opened the article is a Hawaiian family portrait for the ages.

Eddie Aikau in Surfer Magazine feature.
Eddie Aikau would have been feeling great, too, about Kimo Hollinger’s recent full-length SURFER Magazine feature titled, “Pop: the Family Aikau,” which centered not on Eddie or Clyde—the famous Aikaus—but the tough bandy-legged patriarch, Soloman, who everybody called Pop. The Steve Wilkings shot that opened the article is a Hawaiian family portrait for the ages.

Finally, there was Eddie’s interest, which bordered on obsession, in being involved with with the Hokule’a, and crewing on the ship’s upcoming 1978 voyage to Tahiti. 

The Hokule’a project, up to that point, was getting by on hope and pride more than results. The canoe’s first inter-island voyage, in 1975, had derailed badly in the Kaieiewaho Channel, between Kauai and Oahu, not just with the vessel swamped and in pieces, but with racial and command-structure tensions boiling over. 

The boat was rebuilt on the cheap, and its first voyage to Tahiti, in 1977, while successful, saw more infighting.

But even through all of that, you could see how important and worthwhile and cherished the Hokule’a was to Hawaiians, and to anybody with an interest in Polynesian history, or seafaring in general. 

Eddie certainly felt it. 

Moreover, and I’m going out on a limb here a bit, the Hokule’a likely offered him a way forward, something new, something apart from and in addition to surfing, something that connected to ideas and people and culture in a way that didn’t just keep him busy at the dock and on training runs but also made his own life bigger.

On March 14, 1978, two days before the Hokule’s departed from Honolulu, Eddie did an early morning drive-time AM radio interview. The whole eight-minute segment is heartbreaking, knowing what we know. It is uncomfortable as well—the first few minutes anyway—because Aikau is so clearly nervous, almost frozen in places, as he talks about his upbringing, his career as a lifeguard, and the upcoming voyage. 

Then after a break the DJ says, “We’re going to share with you folks out there a special song written by Eddie, and it’s for the Hokule’a,” and Eddie strums his guitar for the first time, does a halting but heartfelt spoken intro, then slides into “Hawaii’s Pride,” and for three minutes we’re in a different world. 

Eddie becomes another person altogether—his voice is fluid, strong, relaxed; his guitar playing is flawless, delicate, with a background mid-range drone that seems plugged into a wavelength not of this world.

How Eddie performs this feat this, with no warm-up, at 7:50 in the morning, is unfathomable to me. The song ends. “From the crew of Hokule’a,” Eddie says, “we love you, Hawaii. Aloha.”

Some of my reaction here, maybe, is just me seeing what I want or need to see in Eddie. The “heavy personal trips” that he went through in the years after Gerald’s death—an experience like that can hang off you like chains, can in fact drag you to a full stop. But it can also temper you into a steadier, more fully-realized version of yourself. 

Not bulletproof. Not impervious. But better than before. This is what I think happened to Eddie during the final year of his life.

You don’t surf as well as Eddie did in the Duke, or come up with a song like “Hawaii’s Pride” and sing it with the kind of feeling he brought to the end of that radio interview, unless you’re moving forward and up.

(Ain’t nobody knows surf history like Matt Warshaw. Chip off five bucks a month or fifty bucks a year to get these weekly missives from Matt as well as access to his treasure trove of archives, old interviews, movies etc.)

Sam McIntosh (pictured) unironically proud of himself.
Sam McIntosh (pictured) unironically proud of himself.

Stab Magazine co-founder Sam McIntosh levels wild accusations at Jordy Smith, John John Florence, Andy Irons in exclusive email!

Buckle up.

Now, those who subscribe to the premium web log Stab are, of course, treated to much beloved exclusive content behind the paywall. They are also, though, gifted periodic emails from the desk of co-founder Sam McIntosh. This week, in peek into the gilded remote office, patrons learned that Bethany Hamilton thought that the title had been purchased by the World Surf League. The reasoning behind her thinking? That Stab was so milquetoast as to belong, squarely, behind the Wall of Positive Noise.

McIntosh blushed with what he considered a compliment and bequeathed Hamilton a special code into the site to “see what they were all about.”

He then proceeded to explain:

Here however, after three years of Stab Premium, you guys understand what we’re trying to do and why we hide these easter eggs within.

Imagine the virality – and the ensuing meltdown – from any of the following headlines on IG.

Jordy Smith Sued For $500k As A Teenager For Trying To Change Sponsor

Why John Florence Didn’t Sign A $5m Rip Curl Deal And How He Turned Down The Volcom Pipe House As A Signing Bonus

How Red Bull Dropped Andy Irons Because Of Cocaine Use

We Convinced Surfboard Sadist Schroff To Shape A Board With Arch-Nemesis Hayden Cox

The list goes on and on and on. Instead, as you know, we release these stories with the most benign of headlines: How Surfers Get Paid, episode one; Electric Acid Surfboard Test episode two etc. Because of this, the people who give us their time are not crucified on social media when their quotes are taken out of context from an entire storyline.

By keeping the salacious headlines off social, our talent can be transparent and unguarded with us. The past 8-10 weeks proved that with us finishing about 30 more interviews for How Surfers Get Paid, shot between California and Hawaii. We’ve landed some hammers there, too — industry heavyweight Evan Slater is back, Rosy Hodge talked about the formative years of her surf career, Jamie O steps up again with some mind blowing deals, Ben Gravy said “you won’t get me, dude” (spoiler: we got him), and Laura Enever and Shane Dorian might be battling for this season’s MVP title.

Sam McIntosh nearing sainthood by protecting the delicate feelings of “his talent” and, thereby, “getting” Ben Gravy.

I suppose I will have to comfort myself in the embrace of “my talent.” Namely, the Hobgood who didn’t win a world title.

Watch here!

Ultimate surfers. Coming soon.
Ultimate surfers. Coming soon.

Cast finalized for new Fox television North Shore surf drama!

A thrilling blend of local motion.

The World Surf League badly failed with its foray into network television with its much ballyhooed reality series The Ultimate Surfer, the stink so bad that observers wondered if a surf project would ever get greenlit in Hollywood again. Good news, then, for surf and surf-adjacent actors as the Fox television network has finalized the cast for its upcoming North Shore, Oahu surf drama titled “Rescue: Hi Surf.”

Following “the personal and professional lives of the heavy-water lifeguards who patrol and protect the North Shore of O’ahu—the most famous and dangerous stretch of coastline in the world, each episode will feature these dedicated, heroic, and adrenaline-seeking first-responders saving lives in the difficult and often life-threatening conditions of Hawaii’s Seven Mile Miracle.”


But who will play this daring crew of Shepardsons?

Let’s, please, meet them.

Robbie Magasiva will play Harlon “Sonny” Jennings, a surfer, waterman, and North Shore lifeguard captain with deep ties to his community and an iron clad commitment to his team of heavy water first responders. A charismatic leader who inspires courage and loyalty, SONNY’S grief over his nephew’s death threatens to cost him the job and team he loves.

Arielle Kebbel as Emily “Em” Wright is a gal in a lifeguard force that is 90% male, yet still the best. A true maverick, EM is the first female lieutenant in Ocean Safety history, an accomplished surfer and record setting paddler who has her sights set on the captain’s job, a position currently held by Sonny, her struggling mentor and friend.

Adam Demos will play Mick “Micko” O’Brien, an Aussie surfer and certified lifesaver since his nipper days at the local board riders club, Mick came to the North Shore to challenge himself and stayed. Good-natured and loyal, Mick’s blue-collar work ethic and incomparable fitness means he’s game to tackle any situation the ocean throws at him.

Kekoa Kekumano as Keoni “Cheeseburger” Nozaki is confident, competent, and hilarious. Burger is an uber-fit Native Hawaiian lifeguard from Honolulu who patrols the busy North Shore beaches with a style all his own. Fearless in the ocean and never afraid of a good time, Laka loves his job and the lifestyle that comes with it.

Alex Aiono is Ezekiel “Zeke” Lau. Cocky and competitive, sweet but stubborn, Zeke was born into privilege in an upscale neighborhood just outside Honolulu. With a football coach father who’s on the rise, Zeke is defying lots of expectations (like appearing on, and winning, reality television programs) to be a rookie North Shore lifeguard.

And there’s a couple more characters, too, including the flashy Brazilian Philip “Pip” Toledo with oodles of talent yet a cowardly heart, Kelly “Slade” Slater, a former surf champion who just doesn’t know when to let go plus Kaipo “Kaips” Guerrero as himself.

Exciting days ahead.

Open Thread: Comment live on the Nazaré Big Wave Challenge!

Super size me!

Fantasy surf league
Fantasy surf league but ruthless and rich!

World’s richest but most ruthless fantasy surf league opens for 2024 WSL season

Seven thousand American dollars and a fleet of Panda surfboards in winner-take-all bunfight!

You all know the stories of fans winning the Surfer or WSL fantasy surf leagues, beating thousands of other keen surfers, and then getting stiffed of their rightful loot. 

Four years ago, the staggering lack of any prizes in fantasy surf leagues was brought into the spotlight when Berlin-based Australian surfer Shane Starling aka Zmonde, picked ten of the eleven event winners, although his victory came and went unacknowledged by the owners of the game. 

Surfer wasn’t any better, said Starling, describing it as a “dead platform.”

(BeachGrit remedied that situation when we despatched to the former home of the Reich a package of t-shirts and air fresheners,.)

Last year, the Australian husband of Lakey Peterson, Thomas Allen, won the WSL’s Fantasy League, beating an astonishing 115,000 competitors. His prize? Allen said, “I might have to buy myself a trophy”.

And, so, this is why the surfer Taylor Lobdell created Surfival League a few years back. You probs know the game by now, but, if you don’t, it’s real easy.

Instead of picking a team you pick one surfer to advance past the round of 32. 

If they advance, you advance. If they don’t, you’re out. 


And you can’t pick the same surfer twice. 

Last man, or gal, gets seven thousand American dollars courtesy of BeachGrit and Taylor and three Panda surfboards. 

Past winner of Surfival Fantasy Surf League include a construction worker from Colorado a butcher from Bondi and an Australia skipper. 

This year, is it you? 

Wanna put money where mouth is etc? 

Twenty bucks. 

We’ll be updating who’s in, who’s out, after each event.

Sign up here.