Monday, May 18, 2009

Eddie Would Go by Stuart Holmes Coleman

Because the surf was so big and dangerous, officials argued over whether or not to hold the event. While they debated over the safety of the surfers, big-wave maverick Mark Foo looked out into the maelstrom of waves and whitewater and nonchalantly told one cameraman, "Eddie would go."
--From Eddie Would Go: The Story of Eddie Aikau, Hawaiian Hero and Pioneer of Big Wave Surfing by Stuart Holmes Coleman

If you spend much time in Hawaii, especially up on the North Shore of Oahu, you'll be sure to see the words "Eddie Would Go." written on bumper stickers, on T-shirts and on graffiti.

That phrase refers to one of Hawaii's most famous surfers, Eddie Aikau, a local kid from a well-known Hawaiian family who pioneered big wave surfing. His life story is fascinating, touching and tragic, and he's a fundamental part of island culture here in Hawaii.

And most tourists here have no idea who he is.

Eddie Would Go, by Stuart Holmes Coleman, is a fast read and an emotional story, although as I'll explain shortly, it isn't written particularly well. Nevertheless, you'll still get an excellent introduction to the history of surfing, and you'll learn about some of Hawaii's most famous surfing breaks, particularly the famous breaks on Oahu's North Shore, most of which were considered too dangerous to surf until Eddie Aikau came along. And of course, you'll learn about the birth of big-wave surfing, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Eddie, his brother Clyde, and a small handful of other daredevil surfers who first braved the thirty- and forty-foot waves of the North Shore and lived to tell about it.

You'll learn about a shy and humble man, a lifeguard who saved hundreds of lives on one of the world's most dangerous beaches, often replying to the gratitude of his rescuees with a silent nod and a quick shaka sign.

You'll also learn about Hawaiian culture, which was largely eradicated after the arrival of Westerners in the 1800s, but thanks in part to Eddie's life and tragic death, began to experience a renaissance in the 1960s.

Most importantly, you'll learn about the fateful voyage of the Hokule'a, a sailing vessel built to replicate the original voyages of the Polynesians who first colonized Hawaii. It was on a voyage of this ship that Eddie was lost at sea in a futile effort to save his fellow crewmembers.

If Eddie Would Go were a better-written book, it would be required reading for all visitors to Hawaii. Unfortunately, author Stuart Holmes Coleman should have made at least one more careful editing pass through his book before publishing it. There are misspellings of words like "discreet" and "every day" sprinkled throughout the text, poorly-edited sentences, and perhaps most annoying, people in in the book referred to by first name without context, an indication that the author was a bit too close to his subject matter to edit it objectively.

But it's still very much worth reading.

Related Links:
An excellent and emotional ESPN segment on Eddie Aikau
Youtube footage of big wave surfing (including tow-in surfing, considered unethical by surfing purists)

Reading List for Eddie Would Go:
Waikiki, in the Wake of Dreams: Paul Berry and Edgy Lee
Mr. Sunset: The Jeff Hakman Story by Phil Jarrat
Hokule'a The Way to Tahiti by Ben Finney
North Shore Chronicles: Big-Wave Surfing in Hawaii by Bruce Jenkins
Surfer's Guide to Hawai'i by Greg Ambrose
Hawaii: A Novel by James Michener

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