While speaking to the HPA middle school on a windy Waimea day, Kumu Kūwalu Anakalea asked students to raise their hands if they knew who Eddie Aikau was. Quickly, every arm in the crowd went straight up — a testament to the lasting legacy of Aikau, a legendary Hawaiʻi waterman who passed away more than 40 years ago, but continues to inspire future generations in Hawaiʻi.
The HPA 8th grade class became especially familiar with the heroics of Aikau this semester through the “Eddie Would Go” essay contest. The prestigious writing competition has been held since 2006 and is the only essay competition in the state that has an English and Hawaiian language category. This was the prompt for this year’s contest:
“Eddie Aikau was a famous big wave surfer, a fearless lifeguard at Waimea Bay, and a courageous crew member of the Polynesian voyaging canoe, Hōkūleʻa. He interacted with people from many cultures during these activities. How did Eddie Aikau’s actions show empathy and compassion (aloha & menemene) for strangers and acceptance of people from other cultures? Provide supporting examples or evidence. What opportunities have you had, or do you have, in your own life to demonstrate empathy and compassion (aloha and menemene) for people from other cultures? Provide supporting examples or evidence.”
HPA’s eighth-grade writers swept their division with a series of inspired essays that clinched the top three spots and five honorable mentions. Members of the Aikau ʻohana, including Solomon Aikau — Eddie’s brother — were on hand to present the awards. Solomon spoke to the students, commending them for their work.
“If it wasn’t for you students, the Eddie legacy would disappear,” Solomon said. “His legacy is still vibrant and strong because of youngsters like you. On behalf of our family and foundation, we would like to thank all of you who participated.”
Catherine H. – “We Are One in the Universe”
Emmy P. – “Eddie Chose to Go”
Kainalu B. – “Eddie Was More”
River B. – “What Makes a Hero”
Kalei D. – “Eddie Would Empathize”
Charlotte K. – “Because of Eddie Aikau”
Laurie T. – ʻ”Eddie Inspirer for All”
Eve E. – “Eddie Still Goes”
Kainalu, the third-place recipient, is from a family of surfers and is very familiar with the stories of Aikau’s heroics and humbleness.
“Our entire family surfs and looks up to people like Eddie, not because he was the best surfer or a fearless lifeguard, but because he was humble and was always showing signs of aloha,” Kainalu wrote. “I take this into my life, I look up to him and, whenever I can, I bring aloha and menemene into my life as he did. … The name Eddie Aikau will always remain as more than just what he did, but who he was and how he acted.”
Emmy, who recently moved to the Big Island, talked about previously looking up to celebrities like Ariana Grande and Zendaya. But after learning about ʻAikau, it changed her perception of what a role model should be.
“Eddie’s story inspires me to be a better version of myself. He wasn’t just a surfer or a lifeguard, he was a protector and a friend. Eddie saved both family and strangers,” Emmy wrote. “People of dark and light skin with different cultures and beliefs. Eddie didn’t choose to go because he thought he would become more popular in the media. He chose to go because of his compassionate and kind soul. … Using Eddie’s mentality, I will dive into life with no hesitation, just like he dived into the waves.”
Catherine, who took home the top prize, applies Aikau’s message of unity to her everyday life.
“Being in a pandemic brings Eddie Aikau’s story and his life more significance of sharing unity, aloha, happiness, and menemene into our lives, even if we may be from different backgrounds, races, religions, or cultural differences,” Catherine wrote. “As my grandmother always told me, ‘we are all one in the universe.’ I think Eddie Aikau’ would agree too.”
Congratulations to all the winners and mahalo to the Aikau ʻohana for joining us to recognize our students’ accomplishments.