Hawaii's big-wave surf competition called off

A bodyboarder catches a wave at Waimea Bay after the Memory of Eddie Aikau surfing contest was canceled on  Wednesday in Haleiwa, Hawaii. [Associated Press]
A bodyboarder catches a wave at Waimea Bay after the Memory of Eddie Aikau surfing contest was canceled on Wednesday in Haleiwa, Hawaii. [Associated Press]
Published Feb. 11, 2016

HALEIWA, Hawaii — Legendary surfer Eddie Aikau would have gone out. But Wednesday's surf in Hawaii didn't stack up to his namesake competition's big-wave standards, and the event was called off hours before it was supposed to happen.

"Eddie would go" is the mantra of the Quiksilver surfing competition in memory of Aikau, a Native Hawaiian surfer famous for riding monster waves and saving hundreds of lives as Waimea Bay's first official lifeguard.

The event was last held in 2009, when waves built to competition size for long enough for the surfers to run their heats.

Conditions Wednesday on the North Shore of Oahu had been forecast to meet the competition's strict requirements for 40-foot-high swells that last for hours. But the towering breakers were a no-show, and as the sun came up over throngs of spectators and dozens of elite surfers, 'The Eddie' was called off.

The narrow road that snakes along Oahu's North Shore was backed up with traffic early in the day as fans rode bikes or walked for miles to reach the venue. Parking was nearly impossible to come by anywhere near the beach.

The Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau competition began in 1984, six years after Aikau died trying to save others. It has only been held eight times.

Some of the best big-wave surfers in the world were at Waimea Bay to compete in the event, including Eddie's brother Clyde Aikau, who is the oldest competitor at 66 years old and the only person to compete in all eight events.

"Is Uncle Clyde ready to ride? Absolutely," Aikau told the Associated Press after he posed for photos with excited fans.

He said he and his brother used to ride Waimea Bay because of their passion for the sport.

"It was just that love to ride, you know, the biggest wave in the world, and to ride it with friends that you really love and you really have a lot of confidence in that if you get in trouble, they'll help you out," he said.

He said the event isn't about fame or money, it's about honoring his brother's legacy. He also added that this will be his last year competing in the Eddie.

As a lifeguard, Eddie Aikau is said to have never had a fatality while on duty. When the surf was too big for most in Waimea Bay and the crowds cleared out, Aikau would grab his surfboard and take on the biggest waves around.

Event spokeswoman and longtime Aikau family friend Jodi Wilmott told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the surfers invited to the event "absolutely understand the prestige of being invited," but that the competition is more about the aloha spirit that Eddie lived his life with.

"He really did share aloha wherever he went," Wilmott said.

He was a guardian of the bay and any other body of water he visited, Wilmott said, and fittingly so as he was a direct descendant of a Hawaiian high priest named Hewahewa, who was given the task of watching over the Waimea Valley long before Aikau arrived.

Ultimately, however, Aikau gave his life to the ocean in a final attempt to save others. The 31-year-old Aikau was part of a team that was attempting to trace the route of their Polynesian ancestors from Hawaii to Tahiti aboard the traditional Hokulea canoe in 1978.

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The vessel encountered rough seas and capsized. Aikau took his surfboard and paddled away for help. He was never seen again, though the rest of the crew was eventually rescued.

Organizers will keep watching the ocean in the coming weeks to see if conditions will allow the competition to go ahead.

Many of the surfers in Hawaii Wednesday will be travelling to another big-wave competition, Mavericks, which is expected to be held on Friday in Half Moon Bay, Calif.