Wednesday, December 9, 2009

eddie would go

steve is sleeping in the next room. he, along with his kids and girlfriend, jenni, stopped off on their way back from his giant-sized, art basel art-show-spectacular in miami. i got them dunkin donuts coffee, and i put it in the oven to keep it warm... can you DO that?

btw, that means that TWO CONES are presently within about 12 feet of one another. i can FEEL the time-space continuum warping around my house as we speak. hopefully it won't mess up the foundation.

every time i get to watch steve throw for a few minutes, i'm reminded of how good he is at yoyoing; the kind of casual skill that is really only born of years spent doing it for a living. last night, we were talking about one of the skills he's mastered: recovery. performing -and more specifically, performing on wood- has ingrained within steve an unnatural (or maybe absolutely natural) ability to 'save' a trick-gone-bad. you know when you're playing a responsive yo-yo, and you commit to a huge flyaway dismount... and you're just WAITING for the yo-yo to return... and a few seconds later, you're still waiting... and you have time to wonder whether it's going to respond at all or just land with a thud upon your palm, the string draping impotently from your fingers? yeah, steve makes all of those. difficult tricks are cool and all, but it's always been the ability to save them, and to make it look EASY that has enamored me.

speaking of making the difficult look easy, the eddie was on last week. if you don't know what i'm talking about, i guess i'm not surprised... and yet... i can't help but feel a little pang of pity for you (i'm sorry - i know how obnoxious that sounds, but it's a reflex).

eddie aikau was a hawaiian waterman - in some respects he was THE hawaiian waterman. he did it all; surfed colossal waves, saved hubristic foundering haoles, dove for turtles and coral... and died while paddling his surfboard miles to shore in the dead of night in the effort to get help for the stranded traditional canoe, hokule'a. either directly or indirectly, he has influenced essentially anyone who has stepped on a surfboard in the modern era, and represents the roots, venerable traditions and aloha spirit of hawaii, the birthplace of 'the sport of kings'.

after his death, a contest was established in eddie's name. and just as eddie aikau was no ordinary man, so the event named after him is no ordinary event. most pro surf contests are held once a year over an assigned 'waiting period'. within a two week stretch when it 'usually' gets good, the competitors are 'on call'. this means that if there's no great surf, the contest will still eventually run in sub-optimal conditions. not so with the eddie. since aikau, himself, was larger than life, the contest that bears his name ONLY runs when oahu's biggest, most formidable break, waimea bay, eclipses the 20-foot mark consistently (which by hawaiian standards often translates to 30-40 foot faces). likewise, this contest doesn't just involve the top hot dog tour surfers. it's invitation only, and the contest is directed by george downing, one of a handful of guys who literally INVENTED big wave surfing. thus, the invitees range from standout 20 year-old competitors, to hawaiian big-wave specialists, to peers and family of eddie, himself. yesterday, i got to watch as eddie's own brother, 60 YEAR-OLD clyde aikau, got pummeled about the head, neck, and bodice by 12 foot shorebreak in the effort to make it outside to the reef. not only did he make it out, he also made the drop on a giant 25-foot wall, seemingly delivered to him straight from eddie's eternal spirit.

surfing at waimea is a really simple thing. at the same time, it's the antithesis of EASY. you have to make it outside through the currents and lethal shorebreak. you have to catch a wave (which frequently breaks at about 25 mph). you have to survive the 20 foot elevator-drop. and then you have to outrun the liquid mountain chasing you. it's not complicated; just near-impossible. and like steve recovering from a trick from which he's milked every ounce of energy, the eddie invitees make it look easy... like it's something that's meant to happen. that's how i want to play yo-yo. that's how i want to do ANYTHING... as though it were meant to happen. as though my own energy and contribution to the act seem natural and cohesive, rather than obscene. i think it's part will, and part knowing who you are. watching a man somehow right himself freefalling from the height of a house, as a thousand olympic swimming pools explode all around him underscores that recovery is, itself, an art. and (i'm sure you'll forgive my tacky, outmoded perspective) it's one that the newest, fanciest, yo-yo's often allow us to neglect.

another thing that i would love to see yo-yoing borrow from the eddie is the spirit of brotherhood. beneath the battle lines we draw between this or that company or this or that style, yo-yoers are fundamentally a tribe. the eddie surfers always seem to keep the contest's namesake in mind. everyone shares. no one gets snaked. no one focuses on the scores. it's an honor to BE THERE, and if you happen to win it, so much the better, but having been invited, you're already a champion. i think yo-yoing needs an eddie. i think that there's certainly a place for a world champion, and if there's ever any money in it, i'd love to see a yo-yoing world tour develop, like surfing's wct. but unlike most contests, which primarily divide the competitors, the eddie really serves to remind surfers that they're connected, and remind us that the most uncanny abilities in the most terrifying conditions are worth celebrating. i think yo-yoing needs an equivalent, which i guess would be a contest where dale oliver, steve, and zach gormley all threw down together... not to one-up each other, but to celebrate how rad yo-yoing is, each in his own way. who wouldn't want to watch upstarts and legends share the stage like that? now that i think on it... 'wheel of penalty' might be the closest thing we have to the eddie, which is pretty frickin' cool, though its zaniness may distract from its meaning.

i've compared surfing with yo-yoing before. i'm sure my tendency to do so betrays my own desperation to try to link my passions, but at the same time... both just express the manipulation of simple energies. i hear an awful lot of yo-yoers and surfers talk about being 'lost' in their respective passions. and though the lexicon and jargon may differ, the 'serious' yo-yoers and surfers i've met tend to remind me of each other, both in their general persistence and their ability to 'accept' life's complexities. the two things that set yo-yoing and surfing apart, however, are enormous. 1.) there is simply no fear of death inherent within playing yo-yo. if you're scared to play yo-yo cause you might hurt yourself or die, you need to be slapped. 2.) doing it is as easy as digging through your pocket. no need to travel. no need to await special conditions. just throw. while comfortable and convenient, these two differences make it somewhat more difficult to view and appreciate yo-yoing as a way of life, which was the real gift of eddie aikau, as is the contest that bears his name. the virtues of courage and patience have to be instilled and honed within the yo-yoer from other avenues. that said... yo-yoing can still teach us plenty. it teaches us to deal with the ephemeral; that our spin is destined to run out. it teaches us that innocence and art are not mutually exclusive, and that the capacity for both dwells within each of us. it teaches us to recover, and to make it look easy.

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