HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Last Thursday, as the heralded big-wave invitational wrapped up in the mountainous waters of Waimea Bay, the phrase "Eddie Would Go" morphed itself into the more topical "Eddie Went," appearing on t-shirts and bumper stickers that immediately became hot-ticket items amongst the thousands that lingered on the sand.
But for the final time in the tournament that bears his brother's name and honors his life-saving legacy, Uncle Clyde Aikau went, too. He says taking to the water in his final 'Eddie" was one of the most emotional experiences of his life.
"It really was like my entire surfing life, which involved surfing with Eddie at Waimea Bay in the 1960's, came down to that moment," Aikau told Hawaii News Now on Monday. "Just chicken skin, just proud, that I had the opportunity to be there."
On the Kahuku-end of the beach, where hundreds sat atop rocky outcrops lining Kamehameha Highway and thousands more fought for the best spot the beach, Aikau stood with his board where the sand meets the water... And listened.
"It was loud, like the Superdome, people just yelling, screaming, 'Uncle Clyde, Uncle Clyde,'" said Aikau. "After, I was talking to one of the elder Hawaiians in my area. And they were literally saying that whole feeling, that whole feeling of the earth shaking, the cliff shaking sounds of people screaming, was actually coming down from the Heiau," referencing the Pu?u o Mahuka Heiau, the largest on Oahu, found deep in Waimea Valley.
The thought of his own ancestors, his own kupuna, calling out to him as he prepared to ride Waimea proved powerful. So much so, Aikau says, that memories of days past flashed before his eyes as he entered the water.
"It was just the energy coming down from the Heiau and the entire Waimea Valley," Aikau said. "That moment at Waimea Bay is about everything leading up to it. It's the whole lifetime of my family's involvement. Eddie's involvement. The rescues that we did that we ourselves where we almost died. The waves that we caught where we almost died.
"I really believe the whole mana, the whole spirit, at that moment, was really the highlight of the whole event," Aikau continued.
Believing that was the case, one of the day's few blemishes came not long before it; on the very first wave Aikau caught once the competition had gotten underway, a painful wipeout caused what he would later learn was a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.
Dropped down ten feet, my board fishtailed," Aikau said. "Went down, lost my balance. Cartwheeled three times down the wave. I got dirty lickins on that one."
The damage to his shoulder came less than two weeks after another serious injury; Aikau says he suffered a concussion while surfing Waimea Bay during the monster swell two weeks ago. Despite the trauma, Aikau says little would have kept him out of the water for the contest.
"I was coming into the event with a lot of confidence," Aikau says. "And that confidence that I had... There was no doubt that even with one hand I could handle whatever Waimea was going to give me that day."
That day will forever be remembered as the final day Uncle Clyde surfed 'The Eddie' for the final time. The honor, he says, was his.
"Just being able to go out and ride one more time for Eddie, and for the people of Hawaii, and for the people on the beach, was just chicken skin."