Eddie Aikau's State of Grace

Aikau's best riding took place in those red-lining moments of descent, just after takeoff. A good big-wave surfer learns to hunker down and ride it out. Eddie was the only one who seemed to actually relax at this critical stage. Freefalling down the face, or half-eaten by whitewater, he looked calm—even serene.

In the 1970s, feature-length articles on big waves all but vanished from the surf press. The mandated Waimea Bay finale, a surf movie showstopper for over a decade, was replaced by the mandated Pipeline sequence. Nat Young, arbiter of all things cool during the early years of the shortboard revolution, said about big-wave surfing: “I’ve only done it once, on one wave, and I don’t wish to ever do i...

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