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For those who missed its few select big-screen showings over the summer, "Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau" premieres Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. ET as part of ESPN Films' 30 for 30 series. The 90-minute documentary covers the life of the revered waterman against the backdrop of the islander's cultural challenges. For a tune-up on Aikau's legend (without any spoilers), XGames.com talked with the film's director, Sam George.
XGames: What's your background with Hawaii and this story in particular?
Sam George: I moved to Hawaii and discovered surfing in 1967. So even though I subsequently moved to the mainland and became a California surfer, deep in my surfing DNA there is the smell of plumeria and the strains of a ukulele.
Eddie's story also has a personal significance for me. While vacationing on Oahu on March 16, 1978, my brother and I were out surfing in Waikiki when the Hokule'a sailed by, bound for Tahiti. We had heard that Eddie Aikau was one of the crew members, and so we waved as it passed, giving him a surfer's sendoff. It wasn't until days later, when we read that the canoe had foundered, that we discovered Eddie was lost. We may have been some of the last surfers to have seen Eddie Aikau.
You describe Eddie as surfing's true hero. Why does he deserve that place in history?
Riding big waves doesn't make you a hero -- those surfers do that for fun. Putting yourself in harm's way for the sake of someone else is the mark of a true hero, and that's something Eddie Aikau did throughout his life, from his first day as a lifeguard at Waimea Bay to his very last moment. He cared about others, even when he had plenty of reasons not to, and that makes him a hero in my book. Worthy of the title.
Can you explain how Eddie served as a peacemaker between Hawaiian and Australian surfers in the 1970s?
Put simply, Eddie was the Hawaiian's Hawaiian, and to have him step in and moderate that potentially explosive situation saved professional surfing as we know it. There would be no Kelly Slater today if not for Eddie Aikau back then.
Everybody's heard "Eddie would go," but not many know his background.
The phrase "Eddie would go" was initially coined to characterize Eddie's commitment to ride big waves. But when Eddie's story is brought to life on the screen, as told by family, friends -- and in some cases his own words -- it becomes clear that the statement extends way beyond the surf. Our film includes rare footage and photographs of Eddie, some of which has never been seen, and an audio file that has, until now, never been heard. Viewed in its entirety, the film paints a picture of a man who lived the spirit of aloha in its most literal sense. And that gives "Eddie would go" a whole new meaning.
What do you hope viewers will take away from your film?
That a real hero is someone who cares, even when it's not easy to do so. But I'd also like viewers to come away with a deeper understanding of how remarkable surfing is as a sport. Not merely a derivative of mock warfare, surfing is the original adventure sport and the most enduring vestige of the remarkable Hawaiian culture. The grass skirt came from Micronesia, the ukulele from Portugal, sugar cane from the Philippines. But surfing is authentically Hawaiian.