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The Eddie Aikau big wave invitational is the Hunger Games of big wave surfing. A short list of select invitees battle for survival, when 40-foot-waves roll through Waimea Bay. Equipped with big “gun” surfboards and even bigger cojones, surfing tributes run with the mountainous undulations on Oahu’s North Shore in hopes that the odds will forever be in their favor; the odds of winning the title as the world’s best big wave surfer, along with the utmost respect by fellow wave riders.
With an opening ceremony to kick off the event, The Eddie’s tributes paddle out on their chariot surfboards for a blessing in the ocean arena. This year marks the 28th year of the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau invitational, which has actually only been held a total of eight times. For the contest to go, wave faces must consistently be a minimum of 40 feet. December 2009 was the last time it was held (I was there!), but every year holds the potential for another Day at the Bay.
The contest can happen anytime from early December to late February, with everyone keeping a close eye on daily surf forecasts and invitees twiddling their thumbs, praying for the thumbs up. There have been many false alarms in the past, however. Rumors and giant surf forecasts cause a flurry of spectators to rush to Waimea before the crack of dawn. They anxiously await the official word, which contest holders can’t usually determine until sun up.
At the ceremony, a colorful spectrum of surfboards line the beach; propped up against them are even more colorful personalities from around the world that charge big waves with their own unique styles. They’re decked out in fresh flower lei and so much aloha for one another as they come together for the love of surfing. Getting chosen to ride in The Eddie is already an accomplishment in itself. It’s an honor to help celebrate a man who has been called a hero, a legend and a true brother to many in the surfing community.
In 1978, Eddie Aikau died at sea during an ill-fated voyage of Hawaii’s Hokulea sailing canoe. He was only 32 years old and already at the peak of his career as a well-known big wave charger and lifeguard. But mostly, everyone respected the Hawaiian waterman as a peacekeeper. His lasting impression is shown through this annual contest – one of the most prestigious events in surfing. And when The Eddie goes, the whole world watches.