This October, the second volume of ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 series returns. One of the films in the upcoming slate will be Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau. Aikau was a big wave rider, famous for not only his incredible surfing skills, but also for his dedication to saving lives as a lifeguard at the dangerous Hawaiian beach, Waimea Bay. Aikau was lost at sea in 1978 when the crew of the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s Hokule’a capsized and Aikau paddled out on a surfboard to try to find help.
Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau, narrated by actor Josh Brolin, premiered recently to a sold-out crowd of thousands at the Maui Film Festival. Front Row spoke with the film’s director, Sam George, about the documentary and his experience at the festival.
How did you come across the story of Eddie Aikau?
I actually grew up surfing in Hawaii when I moved there in the summer of 1967. Naturally I heard of Eddie Aikau, who was, by the end of that year, one of Hawaii’s best-known big wave riders. And even after moving to the mainland, I followed his continuing exploits.
What gave you the idea this would make for a good 30 for 30 film?
Eddie’s story is remarkable in how it seamlessly integrates sport into a cultural context, in this case being the marginalization of the Hawaiian people and the role surfing has played in preserving a small measure of cultural pride. We felt our film would make a perfect 30 for 30 project, considering the series’ success in portraying compelling sports stories with a broader cultural scope.
What was that experience at the premiere like and how did the community respond to the film?
Imagine screening a film called Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau outdoors under the glittering Polynesian stars, on the slopes of an ancient volcano, on the island where Eddie Aikau was born. . . and having nearly 4,000 people show up! And show up not just to watch a movie, but to participate in what turned out to be a heartfelt collective tribute to the man, his family and his people. Put simply, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.