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Wisdom: Clyde Aikau

"If you think you need a flotation vest to ride 20-foot waves, you have no business being out in those waves."

Big-wave riders do what they do because that's their true passion. Surfing Waimea Bay in the late '60s, there was no crowd and no cameras on the beach, and there was no money in big-wave riding at all. There were just a handful of guys like Barry Kanaiaupuni and Jose Angel who rode big waves because it was their passion. I think I'm the last remaining big-wave rider of that era.

In Hawaiian culture you don't really talk to your mentors; you just watch what they do and keep your mouth quiet. Then you go home and practice, practice, practice. That's how I learned from Eddie. I watched him for two years before I paddled out at Waimea. I was a scaredy-cat, but I watched where he was sitting and what he was doing because I knew eventually I would grow the courage to paddle out with him.

There's a lot more respect in big-wave lineups than small-wave lineups. In big waves, you might not like a guy for whatever reason, but when the shit hits the fan and somebody gets hurt, everybody comes to help.

If you think you need a flotation vest to ride 20-foot waves, you have no business being out in those waves. If you aren't confident in your conditioning or you don't think you can withstand getting caught by a 30-foot closeout set without using a vest, then don't go out.

When you go for the big-mamma waves, make sure you've got the right board. Don't surf gigantic waves on an 8-foot board. Some guys are trying to do that, but they're not really catching the big-mamma waves.

Health and family are top priorities. I've been happily married for 33 years to my lovely wife, Eleni Aikau, and she has been my backbone of my entire life.

The shorebreak at Waimea can break your bones and drag you out like driftwood. In 1969, I joined Eddie as a lifeguard at Waimea. We both worked there for 10 years, all the way until he went on the Hokulea. We saved more than 500 lives.

Let go, but don't forget. Sometimes I miss Eddie when I surf Waimea, but I've accepted what he did and I respect the choice he made.

In Hawaii we say, "Don't be high maka maka." "High maka maka" is when you're famous and you don't have time for anybody. That attitude is bullshit. You might be champion of the world for a few years, but then someone else will come along.

Somebody will always catch a bigger wave than you. This year it was Aaron Gold at Jaws.

Surfing big waves alone does not make a waterman. A great waterman is someone who is adequate at a bunch of different activities. You've got to know how to dive and sail and catch fish. Kai Lenny is the perfect waterman. He can windsurf, kitesurf, SUP, surf big waves, surf small waves. And he's a nice guy who says hi to everybody. He's not on a high maka maka trip.

Be humble and help people. You might not have to give your life to save someone, but helping people is what Eddie's legacy is all about.

Let go, but don't forget. Sometimes I miss Eddie when I surf Waimea, but I've accepted what he did and I respect the choice he made. We're all going to see our loved ones sometime, but I don't really want to rush it. I want to enjoy some more waves first.

This interview appeared in our July 2016 issue