CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Nainoa Thompson and his wife, Kathy Muneno, shared a laugh yesterday with Myra Aikau, middle, during the Third Annual Eddie Aikau Essay Writing Contest ceremony held at the Elks Club in Waikiki.
REMEMBERING EDDIE AIKAU -- 30 YEARS
Students put Aikau’s spirit in writing
STORY SUMMARY »
On March 17, 1978, a windy and sunny day, after an elaborate send-off by hundreds of spectators at Magic Island, the Hokule'a left at dusk on what was supposed to be a 35-day voyage to Tahiti.
Just a few hours later, though, around 11 p.m., water flooded one of the hulls, and the canoe began capsizing between Oahu and Lanai.
The next morning, one of the crewmen, legendary surfer and lifeguard Eddie Aikau, paddled off on a surfboard to get help. He was never seen again.
Thirty years later his memory lives among his family members, friends and surviving crew members and in an annual essay contest that bears his name.
STAR-BULLETIN / MARCH 1978
A capsized Hokule'a, with its twin hulls seen in this aerial photo, was righted by the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Cape Corwin.
FULL STORY »
Eddie Aikau has been gone longer than they have been alive. But 30 years later, intermediate and high school students are writing essays about the legendary surfer's inspiration.
"To me, Eddie Aikau is a legend and a hero," wrote Eliane Mathieu, of Kailua Intermediate School, who won first place in the eighth-grade category in an essay contest sponsored by the Eddie Aikau Foundation. "He inspires me to do what's right for the community even if others don't. ... You don't have to be as brave as Eddie (I'm certainly not). Little things matter too."
Three decades ago this day, from a sinking Hokule'a, Aikau paddled out into the Molokai Channel looking for help. The other crew members were rescued hours later. Aikau, known for helping others, was never seen again, but his memory and legacy live on.
"Thirty years, it passed by real fast," said Aikau's youngest brother, Clyde. "It's real humbling to know that after so long, people still respect and remember Eddie. I think it's incredible how Eddie can still inspire generations and generations."
The Eddie Aikau Foundation awarded the winners yesterday in its third annual essay contest, in which it received 305 entries, at the Elks Lodge in Waikiki. Through this contest, the family hopes to teach Aikau's story to the next generation.
The phrase "Eddie Would Go," memorializing the surfer, is seen on bumper stickers and T-shirts all over Hawaii and on the mainland. People chant it, sing it, live by it.
"It means something different to everyone," said Linda Ipsen, who was married to Aikau for seven years before he died. "It's amazing to see them everywhere. The one thing I think everyone gets from that message is to just never give up."
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Solomon Aikau gave Kristyn Iwane a hug yesterday during the Third Annual Eddie Aikau Essay Contest Awards Ceremony, held at the Elks Club in Waikiki. Iwane is a student at Kailua Intermediate School and received honorable mention in the contest.
Ipsen met Aikau in June 1970 on a one-week vacation to Hawaii with a friend when she was 21 years old. He had come with a friend to the airport to pick up the girls. By then, Eddie was already a well-known surfer, riding 30-foot waves at Waimea Bay, the same place he worked as a lifeguard. Under Aikau there were no reports of any drowning at his beach.
Ipsen went home to Seattle, sold everything she owned and moved to Hawaii to marry Aikau several months later. While the young couple did not have children of their own, Aikau taught his nieces and nephews to surf at Waimea Bay during their summer breaks.
It was always one of Aikau's dreams to sail on the Hokule'a, a 60-foot canoe that navigated from Hawaii to Tahiti and back using Polynesia seafaring techniques. After intense training and a passionate plea to go, Aikau, then 32, was selected to sail on the Hokule'a's second voyage.
On March 17, 1978, a windy and sunny day, after an elaborate send-off by hundreds of spectators at Magic Island, the Hokule'a crew left at dusk on what was supposed to be a 35-day voyage. Crew members were munching on friend chicken and rice that Aikau's father, Solomon "Pops" Aikau, had made, recalled crew member Marion Lyman-Mersereau.
Just a few hours later though, around 11 p.m., water flooded one of the hulls, and the canoe began capsizing.
"The water was coming in faster than we could get it out," said Lyman-Mersereau, now a teacher at Punahou School.
Aikau had asked to go for help, but the captain, Dave Lyman, told him to wait, said Lyman-Mersereau, who was also the captain's sister.
"Eddie believed in the hope and inspiration of what the canoe could be," said Nainoa Thompson, who was on board the Hokule'a with Aikau and is now the Polynesian Voyaging Society's master navigator. "He couldn't stand it to be upside down in the Molokai Channel."
The next morning, Aikau again insisted to paddle out for help, estimating that Lanai was only a few miles away. After the captain's approval and a prayer, Aikau left with a bag of oranges, a strobe light and a life jacket that he tied around his waist.
"Five minutes later we saw a life jacket floating back," Lyman-Mersereau recalled. Others had said Aikau had untied it because it was getting in the way of his paddling. "All I kept chanting in my head was 'Go, Eddie, go.' I had no doubt that we would be rescued and that he would be the source of our rescue."
It turned out that a pilot of a Hawaiian Airlines flight would be the one to find the sinking Hokule'a several hours later. After a massive search effort, Aikau was never found.
"It's still a mystery, and we'll never know the end of it," Ipsen said. "Eddie loved the ocean. Sometimes the ocean takes back his own."
Crew Members of Hokule'a, 1978:
Snake Ah Hee
Source: Polynesian Voyaging Society