How's this for a myth? A handsome young man grows up on a beautiful
island, living close to nature. He finds a slab of spear-like board
and discovers he can use it to challenge waves bigger than anyone
thought could be tamed. He rides them flawlessly as they thunder
and crash around him. Even his daily life is extraordinary: He
patrols beaches to save those who venture out too far --- and no
one dies, ever, on his watch. Then comes a mythic opportunity to
recreate an ancient voyage. Soon after the double-hulled canoe
sails, however, it runs into trouble. Our hero volunteers to swim
12 miles across choppy water to get help for his mates. He sets off
--- and is never seen again.
But this is no myth. It's the life story of Eddie Aikau, the
32-year-old Hawaiian waterman who died in l978 trying to save his
shipmates (who, as it happened, were all rescued a few hours after
he started swimming for shore). And what a story! Start with a kid
as handsome as Jason Scott Lee, as athletic as Duke Kahanamoku and
as soulful as Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. He loves the water so much he
drops out of school at 16. At 21, when he's not much known as a
surfer, he shows up at Waimea Bay and triumphs over 40-foot waves.
Suddenly he is in the Pantheon of big-wave surfers. And stays there
until his death.
It was inevitable there would be a book about Eddie. And that it
would be called EDDIE WOULD GO --- the phrase other watermen used
to describe Aikau's unrelenting willingness to leap into deadly
surf to save swimmers in trouble. What was not inevitable? That
EDDIE WOULD GO would be written by someone as gifted as Stuart
Coleman. A writer, teacher and surfer, he strikes just the right
balance between Eddie's life on land and his heroics on the water.
He tells a double story well: courage and integrity on the water, a
spiritual quest on land, as Aikau pondered what it meant to be a
Hawaiian in a rapidly changing world.
Forty foot-high waves. Normally brave surfers standing on shore.
And one surfer --- Eddie Aikau --- smiling as he and his board
become one with the water. It's an image that will warm you on cold
winter nights. And, in summer, make you just a bit more respectful
of kids on surfboards, dreaming of glory.
Reviewed by Jesse Kornbluth on January 21, 2011