Hawaiian surfing legend gets ESPN treatment

Oct. 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

BY MIKE GORDON / mgordon@staradvertiser.com

Eddie is going again. And again and again and again some more.

Starting with a benefit screening last month at the Hawaii Theatre and continuing into early November on ESPN, a new documentary,”Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau,” will share the late surfer’s story with millions of people who have probably never heard of him or even been to the beach.

‘Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau’

Presented by ESPN

Airs at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1 and 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3 (check listings for additional airings through Nov. 3)

Although the theater screening and ESPN are using different versions of the same film — the Hawaii Theatre version was about 12 minutes longer — the documentary from Sam George is still a moving look at the life and times of Aikau.

Aikau, a big-wave surfer and lifeguard without peer, is arguably the most legendary Hawaiian of modern times. He died a hero trying to save his friends as they clung to the capsized hull of the Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hoku­­le‘a in 1978.

The documentary paints an intimate portrait of Aikau by using family photos, historical footage and little-known anecdotes.

ESPN is using the documentary, narrated by Oscar nominee Josh Brolin, to launch the new season of its acclaimed sports series “30 for 30″ and will air “Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau” 17 times today through Nov. 3.

The documentary attracted 3,000 people when it screened at the Maui Film Festival in June, said George, a 57-year-old former editor of Surfing and Surfer magazines.

“How can you not be happy with that?” he said. “It was impressive, but when you think of how many people will see it on TV, it is staggering.”

Because it will be part of “30 for 30,” there is a strong chance his movie will become the most watched surf film since “The Endless Summer” captivated audiences in 1966, George said.

“With global distribution, more people will see this movie probably than any other surf movie,” he said. “And that is wonderful.”

His documentary is a departure from the normal ESPN lineup. The sports-centric cable network leans heavily on mainstream American sports, and surfing exists on the fringes.

“It is still a curiosity to most of America,” he said. “It is not an accepted sport for most Americans.”

ESPN was interested in the film because of the way that surfing, as well as Aikau’s role as a Native Hawaiian surfer, were explained in a cultural context, George said.

“As far as I am concerned, you can’t separate the culture and the Hawaiian history from the essence of surfing,” he said. “People have been surfing around the world, but Hawaii is where surf culture was born.”

In Aikau the filmmaker found a symbol of the Hawaiian Renaissance that was gaining momentum just as the surfer was lost.

Some might find it fitting that the Hawaii Theatre screening will benefit the Eddie Aikau Foundation, which promotes education and the advancement of Hawaiian culture.

Linda Ipsen, secretary for the foundation and Aikau’s ex-wife, said the film may surprise some people because it’s not just a surf story.

“It has surfing in it and great scenes, but there is definitely a great story about Hawaii and what happened here,” she said. “I think Eddie’s name will reach around the world and will attract people — he is well known all over — but they will be surprised because it tells a larger story.”
Mike Gordon covers film and television in Hawaii for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Email him at mgordon@staradvertiser.com and follow him on Twitter. Read his weekly “Outtakes” column Sundays in the Star-Advertiser.

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