10/01/2013 09:34 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2014

'Hawaiian: The Legend Of Eddie Aikau' Is ESPN's Awesome New Documentary

ESPN couldn’t have premiered a more restorative "30 for 30" documentary if they had planned it.

As America reels in the aftermath of a Congress incapable of compromise, reconciliation or sacrifice, “Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau” premiered as the latest installment in ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series.

Eddie Aikau was a Hawaiian, an incredible waterman, a big-wave surf pioneer, and a perfect-record lifeguard. But his legend lives on because of his willingness to work with others and his embodiment of the aloha spirit.

Born in 1946, Aikau grew up when “Whites Only” surf clubs still existed and local boys were not welcome on Waikiki beaches. The film looks back on a time when Hawaii was coming to terms with its new statehood and the place Hawaiians would hold in society. Aikau was often treated as a second-class citizen, but he didn't develop a chip on his shoulder. In 1976, for instance, he was instrumental in easing tensions between Hawaiians and Australians when turf battles on the North Shore of Oahu intensified.

Aikau, it seems, was to surfing what Jackie Robinson was to baseball.

“Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aukau" is heart-wrenching and inspiring. It features never before seen photographs and an exclusive audio recording of Eddie lamenting the fights between Australians, South Africans and Hawaiians.

Where Director Sam George errs is in his claim that, before the film, “the surfing world knew very little about Eddie Aikau: in the 35 years since his death no major surf publication had ever run an Aikau profile.” Perhaps no surf publication had, but an extensive biography of Aikau, Eddie Would Go, was written by Stuart Coleman and published in 2002. Surfer’s Journal called it “a must-have for the comprehensive surf bibliophile.”

What George does get right, however, is why Aikau to this day remains a hero in Hawaii and across the world: “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.”

Aikau died while attempting to seek help for his fellow crewmembers after the Polynesian vessel they were navigating, the Hokulea, capsized near Molokai. As the crew sat atop the overturned hulls, Aikau left alone on a surfboard, paddling through treacherous water in an attempt to reach land and alert rescuers. He was never seen again.

“Hawaiian” airs at 8pm ET on Tuesday, Oct. 1 and at 9pm ET on Wednesday, Oct. 3. (Check listings for additional airings through Nov. 3.)


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