Eddie Aikau

Surfer Eddie Aikau. (Youtube).

The phrase “Eddie Would Go” was inspired by the phenomenal surfer, lifeguard, and explorer, Eddie Aikau. In his years as a Honolulu lifeguard, he rescued hundreds of people from drowning, all while crushing waves that most surfers only dreamed of. Who was the famous “Eddie Would Go,” and how did he become so notorious?

Aikau’s earliest years surfing

Before Edward Aikau became the legendary “Eddie Would Go,” he was eagerly learning how to surf. Born in Maui, Aikau’s first exposure to surfing was at Kahului Harbor, where he learned the basics. After moving to O’ahu, Aikau dropped out of school and started to work at Dole’s pineapple cannery. With his first paycheck, he bought his first surfboard at the age of 16.

Aikau fell in love with surfing, and when he had the chance to surf for a living, he leaped on the opportunity. In 1968, he was hired by the City & County of Honolulu to serve as a lifeguard for all of the beaches on the island’s North Shore. He was the first person hired as a lifeguard by the Honolulu government, and he didn’t disappoint with his rescues.

The surfer’s legendary rescues

Aikau successfully saved every patron in peril. No one drowned at Waimea Bay while he was the lifeguard. How did he manage to outwit the tumultuous ocean? He was willing to surf waves that spanned over 30 feet in order to reach struggling swimmers.

Despite not having boats to aid him in his rescues, he managed to save over 500 people during his career. His immense bravery while traversing treacherous waters (as well as his killer surfing skills during competitions) is what earned him his beloved nickname, “Eddie Would Go.”

This name, which has become a surfing motto, comes from the fact that Aikau would go to great lengths to surf and save struggling swimmers. Historian Mac Simpson shared:

“Aikau was a legend on the North Shore, pulling people out of waves that no one else would dare to. That’s where the saying came from…The phrase originated during the first Eddie contest. The waves were huge and the conditions were extremely dangerous. While the contest organizers were discussing whether to put it on, Mark Foo looked at the conditions and said, ‘Eddie would go.”

Aikau’s final mission

Sadly, Aikau’s love of surfing is also what brought about the end of his life. He didn’t pass away on the job, or even while surfing for fun. Rather, he joined a fateful exploration mission that ended with his tragic disappearance at sea.

In 1978, when Aikau was 31, the Polynesian Voyaging Society invited Aikau along on a historic, 2,500-mile canoeing journey from the Hawaiin and Tahitian Islands. They hoped to recreate the migration path of the ancient Polynesians. The group of explorers left Hawaii in March on a double-hulled voyaging ship called Hokule’a.

In theory, the journey would take 30 days. However, one of the boat’s hulls began to leak and then, just 12 miles away from the island of Molokai, their small boat capsized. Aikau heroically decided that he would paddle to Lanai on his surfboard to retrieve help. A few hours later, a plane spotted the capsized canoe and contacted the U.S. Coast Guard to rescue the passengers.


Where was Aikau? Lost at sea. Despite launching the biggest search-and-rescue mission in Hawaii’s history, Aikau was never recovered. However, his legacy continues to inspire surfers, athletes, and everyday people across the globe, who all know that if “Eddie Would Go,” so can they.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

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