Eddie Aikau was an iconic Hawaiian surfer as famous for his prowess on big waves as he was as a lifeguard who saved hundreds of lives from the dangerous surf of Oahu's north shore.
But it's for his final rescue attempt that he's beloved in the Hawaiian community. To honor the legendary surfer and lifeguard, Google dedicated an animated to Aikau on what would have been his 73rd birthday.
For almost as long as Google has been around, it's livened up its barebones search page with artwork that draws attention to notable people, events, holidays and anniversaries. Google Doodles have celebrated, among many other things, Pac-Man's anniversary, Copernicus' birthday, Mother's Day and the World Cup, as well as reminding us of lesser-known real-world heroes.
Aikau was one of those real-world heroes.
Born in Maui on May 4, 1946, Aikau was a descendant of the high priest to King Kamehameha I. After his family moved to Oahu, he dropped out of school at the age of 16 to take a job at the Dole pineapple cannery; his paycheck allowed him to buy his first surfboard.
In 1967, Aikau was hired as the first lifeguard at Waimea Bay on Oahu's north shore, where waves frequently reach 30 feet or higher. He's credited with saving more than 500 people during his brief career, never losing a soul on his watch.
Aikau also made his mark as a big-wave surfer, riding every major swell to hit the north shore between 1967 and 1978.
"Eddie was a pretty quiet guy, but when there was a challenge, or some risk to be taken, or a game to be played that everybody wanted to win, Eddie seemed to rise to the top," his younger brother Clyde said in a profile published by surfboard maker Quiksilver. "He was high risk at an early age."
In pro surfing, Aikau reached a rank of 12th best in the world and won several surfing awards, including the 1977 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championship.
In 1978, he was chosen to join the crew of a cultural expedition between Hawaii and Tahiti on the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea. During the 30-day, 2,500-mile voyage, the double-hulled canoe developed a leak and capsized about 12 miles south of the island of Molokai.
In an effort to get help for the crew, Aikua paddled off on his surfboard toward the island of Lanai. The crew was eventually rescued by the US Coast Guard, but Aikau was never seen again.
In 1985, a big-wave surfing tournament called Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau, aka The Eddie, was established at Waimea Bay to honor Aikau's legacy. Before the competition can be held, the tournament's rules require open-ocean swells must be at least 20 feet high, which generally generates wave faces in the bay of about 30 feet.
As a result, the tournament has been held only nine times, most recently in 2016.