The Most Influential Surfers and Watermen in Hawaiian History

Hawaiian watermen
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As the birthplace of surfing and home of the most celebrated waves on the planet, it’s no surprise that scores of Hawaiians have left their mark on surfing’s storied history. The famed waters of the Hawaiian Islands have created some of the best watermen and women on the planet. They’ve introduced the sport to the world, pioneered the waves against all odds, dominated competitive surfing, and took on the most dangerous surf on the planet. Our little stretch of coast on the North Shore of Oahu, the Seven Mile Miracle, and the fearsome waves that break here every winter have created a class of watermen and women unlike anywhere else.. To learn more about The Most Influential Surfers in Hawaiian History, continue reading below.



Eddie Aikau

Hawaiian watermen
Image Credit: California Surf Museum


Eddie Aikau may be the most celebrated Hawaiian surfer in history. Aikau was a fierce waterman whose exploits in the ocean as a surfer and a lifeguard have cemented him as the ultimate waterman. Eddie Aikau was born in 1946 in Maui and was introduced to surfing at a young age by his father. The Aikaus moved to Oahu in 1959, where Eddie would begin surfing regularly and working as a lifeguard at Waimea Bay. In 1971, Eddie was named the lifeguard of the year for saving multiple lives in dangerous conditions previously thought of as unmanageable. In 1977, he won the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championship, cementing his status as a waterman. In 1978, Eddie Aikau was chosen as a crew member on the second voyage of Hokule‘a from Honolulu Harbor to Tahiti. A few short hours after departure, a leak caused the boat to eventually capsize in the Moloka’i Channel. After hours stranded atop the sinking ship with the crew, Eddie decided to paddle out the following morning on his surfboard towards Lanai to get help. Hours later, the rest of the crew was rescued by the US Coast Guard, but Eddie was never seen again. Choosing to risk his life to save his crew solidifies Eddie Aikau as the ultimate Waterman. Each year, the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational invites the best surfers on the planet to compete in his honor. The Eddie only runs when the waves reach XXL status. The event has not run since 2016.



Duke Kahanamoku

Hawaiian watermen
Image Credit: Kamehameha Schools


Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku was born in 1890 in Honolulu during the period of annexation in Hawaii. Duke Kahanamoku is considered one of the founding fathers of modern surfing. Duke was an avid swimmer, surfer, and paddler growing up. In 1912, Duke was clocked at a record-shattering time for the 100-meter swim. His time was so impressive the Amateur Athletic Union Officials in New York didn’t accept it because “no one swims that fast.” So later that year, Duke traveled to the mainland, where he won the 100-meter race to qualify for the Olympic Swim Team. Duke proceeded to dominate the competition and broke the Olympic record for the 100-meter dash. Between two different Olympic appearances, Duke won 7 medals (5 gold and two silver) and became an American and Hawaiian legend. In 1925, Duke rescued 8 men from drowning off Newport Beach. He made the US Water Polo Team in 1932, served as Sheriff of Honolulu for 26 years, and even starred in several Hollywood films alongside John Wayne. Kahanamoku toured around the world, giving surfing demonstrations for the public along the way. Before Kahanamoku, surfing was nearly wiped out. But thanks to surfers like Duke Kahanamoku and George Freeth, the sport grew in California, Australia, and beyond.


Gerry Lopez

Hawaiian watermen
Image Credit: The Pill Outdoor Journal


Gerry Lopez, AKA Mr. Pipeline. Gerry Lopez grew up in Honolulu and idolized the style of Hawaiian surfer Paul Strauch. Lopez refined his unique barrel riding technique at Ala Moana Bowls before migrating to the North Shore. Once on the North Shore, Lopez quickly made a name for himself with his late, vertical takeoffs and his nonchalance in the tube. Lopez paved the way for modern surfers at Pipe, taking a radically different approach to the critical wave. Gerry won two Pipe Masters in 1972 and 1973 and would go on to pioneer several famed waves in Indonesia, launch his iconic shaping company, and is, to this day, one of surfing’s most beloved characters.


To walk in the path of giants and experience the raw power of Hawaii’s fearsome surf, book your stay at the Turtle Bay Resort to stay close to the action on the North Shore. Book a North Shore Surf Lesson during your Hawaii vacation to learn to surf with the best surf coaches on the planet in the gentle waters of Turtle Bay. Stay tuned to the JOB Surf Experience blog for The Most Influential Surfers in Hawaiian History Part II. 

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