Heʻe Nalu Kākou Into the 2020 Olympics


The legendary Eddie Aikau was a championship athlete, a big wave surfing pioneer, waterman, and a family man who truly cared for others. Eddie was the first lifeguard on the North Shore and saved 500+ people throughout his career before famously sacrificing his own life attempting to rescue the Hōkūleʻa and its crew. Eddie was known to brave the winter swells and waves that often reached 30 plus feet.

The best surfers from around the world travel to Oʻahu’s north shore every winter to surf the best waves and compete in the most renowned surf contests on the globe. A premier event in the sport of surfing, often referred to as the “Super Bowl of Surfing,” has been dedicated to Eddie Aikau. “The Eddie Big Wave Invitational” highlights the current lineage of big wave surfers, as well as the ones that came before. Like Duke Kahanamoku, another Native Hawaiian surfing hero and pioneer, the legend of Eddie Aikau has become iconic and has elevated Native Hawaiian culture and history to global proportions.

“The Eddie” holding period is during the season of Makahiki, a season for tribute, harvest, sport, and play. Dependent upon the lunar calendar the Makahiki season usually begins mid-November and ends in late January/February, which bookends the holding period of “The Eddie Big Wave Invitational.”

Thanks to our aliʻi who travelled the world and legends such as Eddie and Duke, surfing has become a global sport. This begs the question, “has Hawaiʻi done enough to stake claim as the official home of surfing?”

Heʻe nalu (surfing) was introduced to the world by Native Hawaiians. Many moʻōlelo of the early 1800s often make reference to aliʻi, both men and women surfing. In an 1823 journal excerpt, an explorer by the name of William Ellis journaled scenes on his tour of Hawai‘i and he wrote, “Sometimes the greater part of the inhabitants of a village go out to this sport [surfing] … and spend the greater part of the day in the water.” That same year (1823) another early observer, writing about Lahaina, Maui, noted that the surfboard “…forms an article of personal property among all the chiefs, male and female, and among many of the common people.” These journal entries evince the status of surfing as a national Hawaiian sport and the universality of surfing in Hawaiian life, practiced by men, women, and children, chiefs and commoners.

Today, it is time we discuss Hawai‘i’s role, and the Native Hawaiian community’s role in the global sport of surfing. From both cultural and an economic perspectives, it seems that the world of surfing is leaving Hawaiʻi behind. I believe we are past due for a reclamation of surfing as the official, cultural sport of Hawaiʻi.

With the 2020 Olympics around the corner, the Hawaiʻi surfing community needs to step to the forefront as surfing will be included in the Olympic games. The dream of Olympic surfing started with Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic gold medalist and record setting swimmer. Known as the father of modern surfing, Duke first presented his dream at the 1912 Summer Olympic Games in Stockholm. There, Duke expressed his wish to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to see surfing included in the games. Today, Duke’s dream is fulfilled with the inclusion of surfing in the Games of the XXXII Olympiad – Tokyo 2020.

It is evident through our rich culture and history that surfing is a uniquely Hawaiian sport. We need to reclaim this sport across Hawaiʻi nei and globally to honor our aliʻi, and legends such as Eddie Aikau and Duke Kahanamoku.