Eddie Would Go

Stuart Holmes Coleman, Author St. Martin's Griffin $15.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-32718-7

Eddie Aikau was the most famous and respected Hawaiian surfer since the legendary Duke Kahanamoku brought surfing to national attention in the 1920s. Coleman's thoughtful and detailed biography is the best look at Aikau's story since the surfer died in 1978 paddling for help after the historic Canoe Hokulea (a twin-hulled boat modeled after the ancient Polynesian vessels that brought the first settlers to the islands of Hawaii) was capsized in a huge storm. Coleman brings his skills as an essayist and poet to weave the many strands of Aikau's life into a coherent picture of how Aikau's story""was also the story of modern Hawai'i."" Coleman nicely describes how Aikau--born in 1946 into a""spiritually divided"" postwar Hawaiian culture torn between""Hawai'ian roots and American dreams""--helped define a new image of Hawaii in the 1950s and '60s, as part of the first modern surfing expeditions to the Oahu's North Shore and its huge waves at the now-classic Pipeline and Waimea Bay beaches. (""Eddie would go"" is now the standard surfing phrase used to determine if a surfer should attempt to ride a particularly daunting wave.) Coleman shows how Aikau's life between 1967 and 1977 was""a strange mix of calm and chaos,"" with Aikau working as a Waimea Bay lifeguard between local and international surf competitions, culminating in his winning the prestigious Duke Kahanamoku Classic in 1977. But Coleman also smartly observes how Aikau's desire to join the crew of the voyaging Hokulea--which was attempting to show that ancient Polynesian sailors had purposely sailed to the islands--was itself an example of the resurgent interest by Hawaiians to explore and reclaim their cultural identity and further added to Aikau's ongoing status as a Hawaiian hero.