ESPN's "30 For 30" documentary series received an Emmy for Best Sports Documentary Series, and standing alongside the tales of Nancy Kerrigan, Bo Jackson, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Dan Marino is Hawaiian lifeguard and big-wave legend Eddie Aikau. The award marks one of a very few Emmy wins in history, for a surf-related film and a remarkable achievement for director Sam George and producer Paul Taublieb.
"Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau" is an epic work of journalism, research and storytelling. It's not only the biography of the turbulent life and tragic death of the lifeguard and big wave surfer first assigned to Oahu's North Shore, it's a journey into the psyche and history of Hawaiians as they were forced to turn from proud monarchy to subjugated statehood.
When he learned of the Emmy, Taublieb was literally shocked. He was aware that "Hawaiian's" musical score had been nominated for an Emmy (which it didn't win), but he had no idea it was part of a larger 30 for 30 Emmy nomination.
"In my own little way it was like the moment Oscar people talk about, 'Oh my God, we actually won something,'" he says. "Then I got an email from ESPN and the other 30 for 30 filmmakers -- you're part of this team, congratulations. I sort of feel like a cliché machine, but your first response is to start thanking all the people who worked on it, including Quiksilver [sponsor of the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational at Waimea Bay], Josh Brolin for narrating, and Sam, and especially the Aikaus, who trusted us with Eddie's story."
It's all been a bit surreal for Taublieb. He grew up on Long Island Sound, 20 miles from the waves. His dad was an accountant on Manhattan's Lower East Side and took a dim view of his son's surf inexplicable surf addiction.
"My parents thought, 'This is a dead end. You're gonna be a surf bum. You're going to ruin your life,'" he says. "I wish they were there today to see this. They didn't understand it, but surfing has become the cornerstone of my life and career."
To Taublieb, Eddie Aikau's "Peaceful Warrior" story still resonates today on the North Shore, where violence and intimidation in the surf lineup is still, unfortunately all too common. That, he says, was not Aikau's way, who chose respect, dialogue and education over fists. At the same time, Taublieb hopes those who see the film will understand the sensibilities of Hawaiians -- and their way of thinking -- through Eddie's eyes.
"We have these impressions like Hawaii is these happy little islands where people surf and do the hula," he says. "But there is a political, economic and racial component to its history. This was an independent nation with a queen. Under the guise of protecting Hawaii from itself, we took it over to protect the sugar industry. That's why, hopefully people will watch the film and understand Hawaii. Be respectful and appreciate where you are."
Right after the Emmy win Taublieb attended the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards, where he and George were filming a new ESPN/ABC adventure documentary series. It will air this fall and stars Greg Long, Shane Dorian, Mark Healey, and a crew of the world's best big-wave riders. It's a show that ESPN, Taublieb and the surfers are putting high hopes on, partly because of the success of "Hawaiian."