‘Eddie’ surf contest draws thousands to Oahu’s Waimea Bay

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John John Florence
23-year-old local Oahu pro surfer John John Florence took first place in the 2016 invitational. Photo Credit: WSL/Keoki

Organizers of the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational surf contest estimated that more than 25,000 spectators crowded the beach, lava rock cliffs, and highway overlooking Oahu’s Waimea Bay Thursday to watch competitors ride monstrous waves featuring 40- to 60-foot faces. 

Better known to residents as simply the “Eddie,” the contest has been held just 9 times in the past 31 years and runs only when wave heights at the North Shore’s Waimea Bay reach 20 feet on the Hawaiian scale, which generally means wave-face heights of around 40 feet. The Eddie last ran in December of 2009.

Quiksilver officials announced tentative plans to hold the rare competition earlier in the week, contingent on the accuracy of weather forecasts calling for a colossal North Shore swell, and many Oahu visitors and residents camped out overnight Wednesday along the highway to secure parking spots and the best viewing locations.

Crowds gather in Waimea prior to the Eddie Aikau surf contest.
It was standing-room only at the beach fronting Waimea Bay prior to the start of the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau event. Photo Credit: WSL/Heff

“Today, the ‘Eddie’ celebrated the ultimate stoke of surfing and its greatness to Hawaii’s legacy,” George Szigeti, the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s president and CEO — and a one-time professional surfer — said in a Feb. 25 statement. “The whole world saw the world’s most prestigious surfing event at the world’s premier surfing mecca on Oahu’s magnificent North Shore.”

Along with a live broadcast on the World Surfing League’s (WSL) website, the event was televised live nationally on the CBS Sports Network and internationally in countries like Australia, Brazil and New Zealand. 

This year’s Eddie winner was 23-year-old local Oahu pro surfer John John Florence, who took home a first-place check for $75,000. 

The memorial competition honors Eddie Aikau, Waimea’s first lifeguard and a Hawaiian hero revered for surfing enormous Waimea waves. Aikau was lost at sea while paddling for help after the Hokulea, a traditional replica of ancient Hawaiian sailing canoes, capsized in stormy seas off the coast of Molokai in 1978.

“The ‘Eddie’ perpetuates the memory and honor of the legendary Eddie Aikau and all that he meant to surfing and the renaissance of Hawaiian culture,” Szigeti said. “His life-saving skills, bravery and gift for riding the biggest waves on the North Shore will never be forgotten.”

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