The Eddie is back!

Social media has exploded, hours ago, with the revelation that the most prestigious surf contest in the world, The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, is set to run in one day and one half, on Wednesday, January 11, 2023. Oh The Eddie. Wow The Eddie.

Last held in 2015/16 and won by John John Florence, The Eddie is nearly perfect in every way. Waimea Bay, itself, terrifying as it is awe inspiring. The surrounding cliffs forming a thunderous amphitheater. The surfers, hand selected. The history and prestige unparalleled.

This year we shall see…

Aaron Gold, Andrea Moller, Billy Kemper, Eli Olson, Emily Erickson, Ezekiel Lau, Grant Baker, Greg Long, Ian Walsh, Jake Maki, Jamie O’Brien, Jamie Mitchell, John John Florence, Josh Moniz, Justine Dupont, Kai Lenny, Keala Kennelly, Keali’i Mamala, Kelly Slater, Koa Rothman, Kohl Christensen, Landon McNamara, Lucas Chianca, Luke Shepardson, Makani Adric, Makuakai Rothman, Mark Healey, Mason Ho, Michael Ho, Nathan Florence, Nathan Fletcher, Nic von Rupp, Paige Alms, Peter Mel, Ramon Navarro, Ross Clarke-Jones, Shane Dorian, Taio Shipman, Tikanui Smith, Tyler Larronde

…and see you must (here).

I was there in 2009/10 to see Greg Long take out all comers, writing in the award-nominated Welcome to Paradise, Now Go To Hell:

Waimea is host to one of the most fabled events in all of surfing. The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau. The Eddie only runs when Waimea exceeds twenty feet of open ocean swell, which translates to forty foot waves in the bay. It has only run eight times since its inauguration in 1984 (which happened to be at Sunset Beach three miles up the Kamehameha. It moved the next year to Waimea) which is not to say that Waimea has only exceeded forty feet from December to February eight times but simply that perfect conditions, giant and smooth, are not a given.

Unlike any other surf competition, the twenty-eight participants and twenty-four alternates in the Eddie are chosen among their peers by their peers, the best big wave surfers in the world. Once selected, they wait through the winter and if ocean forecasters see a window where the waves will be big enough and good enough the participants have twelve hours in which to get to the North Shore. The competition takes place in one day and the surfer who rides the four biggest waves wins.

Its namesake, Eddie Aikau, was a North Shore legend. He was born on Maui but moved, with his family, to Oahu when he was thirteen. At sixteen he dropped out of school, went to work for the Dole Pineapple Plantation, used his paycheck to buy his first surfboard and began surfing Waimea. Twenty years earlier the thought of riding Waimea was not even a glimmer in the eye. It was seen as too big. Deadly. Impossible. But a few brave souls paddled out in the fifties and a few more followed them in the sixties. And then Eddie followed them. Beyond just surviving, he surfed Waimea uniquely and beautifully. He was never afraid. When he was not surfing he saved lives, working as a lifeguard between Hale’iwa and Sunset Beach.

In 1978 the Polynesian Voyaging Society attempted a thirty-day 2,500 mile journey following the ancient path of Polynesian migration between the Hawaiian islands and Tahiti. The path of migration that brought human sacrifice and the art of choking out. Eddie Aikau was a crew member. The Society had made an original style double-hulled canoe and set sail in March and almost instantly sprung a leak. Eddie, in an attempt to get help, jumped into the water to paddle a surfboard to the island of Lanai. The crew was eventually rescued by the Coast Guard but Eddie Aikau was never seen again. Lost at sea.

His legend burns brightly in the contest and on ubiquitous bumper stickers and t-shirts that read, “Eddie Would Go,” referring back to his lack of fear. It is a battle cry for other surfers trying to emulate his brazen panache.

I was standing on the rocks above Waimea when the Eddie contest ran last in 2009. It was a massive day and watching the competitors paddle out to face monsters was, damn all, it was humbling. The sounds, the smells, the pounding hearts…all of it. Spectators stand and trade information about who they think is going, which surfer just dropped down the monster, and if they think his monster was bigger or more critical than the previous surfer’s. Everyone shouts and screams and throws hands in the air. Everyone from the most hardened cynic to the freshest wide-eyed daisy. There are bigger and deadlier waves in the world and even on the North Shore than Waimea but there is something about the natural stadium of the bay and there is something about the history, something about the smell, and I will say, without fear of contradiction, that the Eddie is the best sporting event to witness live in the entire world. Better than the Super Bowl. Better than the World Cup Finals. Better than the bullfights in Spain. Better than anything.

During the big days, and especially if the Eddie is running, the Kamehameha rounding the bay will be come to a standstill as people stop their cars, drop their jaws and watch what James Joyce called, “The Scrotumtightening sea.”

And the tourist family will very much enjoy the spectacle for the afternoon and nothing particularly violent or menacing will happen to them, aside from an ocean beating, because they are unaffiliated. They are not involved in the surf world. They are aliens from Muncie, which might as well be outer space, and they are looked right through by the likes of Kala, Dustin or Fast Eddie Rothman. Maybe their car will be broken into. Maybe the father’s wallet will be stolen from the beach but that is all. No violence. No knocks or cracks or slaps. They will simply wander around the sand and look at the waves and look at the tranquil river that flows from the middle of the bay up the Waimea valley. The valley, very fertile and tropical with two fern shrouded cliffs cascading down to the river, is protected by the state because of its diverse flora and fauna. A few North Shore residents grow marijuana up its somnolent green folds too, adding to its diversity.

It ain’t Quiksilver anymore (RIP) but we shall chat live, together, like it was 2010.


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