When a surfer drops onto the face of a wave at the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, it’s a long way down. The prestigious surfing competition takes place during the most active swell season at Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore, from December 1 to February 28*; it requires waves of more than 20 feet to run - and that’s Hawaiian scale. The faces of those waves measure upwards of 30 feet. The event honors legendary Hawaiian surfer Eddie Aikau. Twenty-eight surfers are voted by their peers to compete in “The Eddie”.
2009 Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. Photo Hawaii News Now.
Eddie Aikau became the first lifeguard for the North Shore of Oahu in 1968, including the surfing mecca of Waimea Bay. In Eddie’s 10 years of service, he made over 500 rescues with only a surfboard and fins. There wasn’t a single fatality.
Eddie Aikau. Photo Boardmasters.
In 1978, Eddie volunteered to crew on a 30-day, 2,500-mile journey which was to follow the ancient route of the Polynesian migration between the Hawaiian and Tahitian island chains. The double-hulled voyaging canoe, Hokule’a, developed a leak in one of the hulls and capsized about twelve miles south of the island of Molokai. Aikau paddled out toward Lanai on his surfboard to get help. Although the rest of the crew was later rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Cape Corwin, Aikau was never seen again.
Eddie Would Go. Photo Boardmasters.
"Eddie Would Go."
Most give credit to the late surfer Mark Foo for coining that famous phrase. At one Invitational, swells were enormous and the organizers were contemplating closing the competition for safety. Foo looked out at the surf and quietly, factually, stated, “Eddie would go”.
In the end, it’s not about Eddie Aikau’s final act of heroism. What endures is the legacy of Eddie's selfless giving and service to others, so that they could discover the pure joy of riding the waves.
*The 2020-2021 Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational has been canceled over pandemic concerns.
Featured photo by David Croxford.