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Watch: When People Like This Speak, We Listen

Raw, extended conversations with Clyde Aikau and Eddie Aikau winner Luke Shepardson.

// Mar 28, 2023
Words by Kuio Young
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Surf films are hard.

Especially when creating shorter ones, gold is often left on the cutting room floor. In this case, the unused material consisted of extended interviews collected during the making of Luke + Eddie.

This remaining gold was smelted into something new: face to camera portraits of Luke Shepardson and Clyde Aikau. Although Luke and Clyde lead very different lives, they are cut from a similar cloth. Both have lifeguarded Waimea Bay, won the Eddie Aikau big wave event, and hold strong family values. When attempting to learn more about them, the questions were minimal, their schedules were crammed, and there was one goal in mind: to get an authentic look into their lives.

They had so much to say…

Luke on the job | Photo: Kyle Buthman

When I first called Luke about an interview, we were dealing with a short timeline and an individual in demand. I had three days to capture it (in order to keep this piece semi-timely) and Luke had a busy schedule. Being the most recent winner of the Eddie Aikau, he was dealing with the inherited obligations that come with a fresh title: a multitude of interviews, photo ops, new deals, and celebrations. He even had his own day named after him, recognized by Hawaii’s government. On top of it all, he had an obligation to keep Oahuʻs beaches safe and a young family to provide for. We agreed upon a date and time — an hour-and-a-half window before his Tuesday shift at the lifeguard tower.

Fast forward to that day: I met Luke at Waimea Bay, bright and early 7:30 AM, set up, and prefaced the subjects of the interview (The Eddie, family, lifeguarding, etc.). We just began to break the ice before a county worker started mowing the grass at the beach park (something like this always happens) and Luke received notice of a tower change by his captain (here come the production dynamics), hence the scene change.

The newly minted North Shore hero spoke on a few different topics…

  1. Growing up on the North Shore ~ 0:05
  2. Sponsorship in Hawaii ~ 2:07
  3. Lessons learned from Lifeguarding ~ 3:08
  4. The balance between work and family ~ 5:03
  5. Thoughts on Instagram ~ 6:08

The day we met uncle Clyde was a whole other experience.

For those who may not be familiar with Clyde Aikau, he is a living legend of the sport. In his early years, he began lifeguarding and surfing Waimea Bay with his brother Eddie AikauThey were two of the first lifeguards at Waimea bay and held a perfect safety record of zero fatalities while on the job. After Eddie was lost at sea while voyaging upon the Hokulea in 1978, Clyde continued to ride big waves at the Bay in honor of his brother, later winning “The Eddie” in 1986. In 2016, at the age of 67 years old, Clyde competed in the event for the last time amongst the likes of John Florence, Shane Dorian, Ross Clarke-Jones, and other renowned big wave surfers. The waves were huge, the Bay was closing out, and Clyde likely became the oldest performing extreme athlete on that day. Today, Clyde serves as the event director for the big wave competition and works alongside other members of the Aikau family to plan, coordinate, produce, and call on the hallowed event.

Clyde Aikau: Surfer, former lifeguard, event director, Hawaiian royalty | Photo: Matt Heirakuji

In Hawaiian tradition, it is a sign of respect to bring food when meeting your elders. In observance of this protocol, I picked up a local delicacy of Manapua before meeting with uncle Clyde. When I arrived at the graveyard — an old Chinese cemetery that the Aikau family has care-taken and called home for generations — Uncle Clyde was busy cleaning the yard. As we rolled up, Clyde greeted us with a quick, “Ehhh howzit, try park over there,” and finished up his work as we set up. When we finally sat down together, he happily offered to share the Manapua with us.

Little did I know, he was going to share a whole lot more than just food…

  1. Aikau Family connection to Waimea Bay ~ 0:04
  2. How waves were scored ~ 2:31
  3. The only complaint ~ 5:32
  4. Future of The Eddie ~ 6:39
  5. Wrapping up this yearʻs event~ 8:09

After conducting the interviews, editing the short film, and wrapping the production, I left with five important take aways:

  1. Family bonds are strong – love for a brother, for a child, or for a partner transcend what we as humans can put into words. People go to great lengths to continue to honor and strengthen these bonds.
  2. The balance between work and surf exists – Luke Shepardson is a perfect example of how to contribute to your job, perform at the highest levels of surfing, and care for your family.
  3. Listen to your elders – through their history and various experiences, our elders have learned and gained insight to a plethora of things that we may not necessarily understand or have experienced yet. There is knowledge to be found in the stories that they share.
  4. Let the people tell their story – thereʻs just something about giving a person the time and space to tell their own story. When you don’t ask heavily directed questions, people feel comfortable and compelled to share what feels natural. Seeing someone talk to a camera, long form, without chopping it up, builds integrity and authenticity.
  5. A lot more goes into these projects than you think – with this being the first project I had the experience of handling end to end, the whole thing was a learning curve. As a viewer you just see the final product of the whole production process. You don’t see all the other components that go into it such as researching, writing, planning, coordinating crew, editing, sourcing material, re-editing (or completely rewriting), and sending in the final deliverables. Can’t forget, actually getting somebody to fund a project is a task in itself. As a viewer, there is a ton to nit pick or complain about, but it is what it is. I just hope that people see the value in sharing stories like these.
Cruising with unks | Photo: Matt Heirakuji

– Kuio

P.S. Thanks mom for letting me borrow your car


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