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July 24, 2023

10 Things About the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational (2023)


QUESTION: Where in the world have you witnessed 20-ft+ big waves?

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One of the world's most esteemed and so challenging-to-scheduling of all surfing contests got the green light and returned to Oahu's North Shore for the first time in seven years. I don't know on a national scale how popular The Eddie is but it could be compared to as the "Superbowl of Surfing." 

Top Big Wave Surfers at Waimea Bay 2009 - Photos ©️ Maya Sunpongco

1. History of the Eddie Aikau Invitational Surf Competition

The Eddie Aikau Invitational is a one-day contest that takes place at Waimea Bay on Oahu's North Shore. The contest is held annually on the anniversary and in memory of the birth of legendary Hawaiian waterman, Eddie Aikau.

The Biography of Aikau - Legendary Native Hawaiian Waterman:

He was appointed as the first city lifeguard for all of the beaches on the island's North Shore of Oahu, in 1968, by the City & County of Honolulu. He served all of the beaches and surf breaks between Hale'iwa and Sunset Beach. Every person in danger was rescued by Aikau. While he was the lifeguard, no one drowned in Waimea Bay. He saved more than 500 people during his career despite not having boats to assist him in any of his rescues. He earned his moniker - Eddie Would Go due to his tremendous bravery in combating dangerous ocean conditions (as well as his lethal surfing skills in contests).

On a 2,500-mile voyage to follow the ancient path of the Polynesian migration between Hawaii and Tahiti, Aikau joined the Polynesian Voyaging Society as a crew member on the Hokule'a, a giant double-hulled canoe set sail. On March 16, 1978, the Hokule'a sailed from Oahu. It capsized after being caught in massive sea storms.

Aikau paddled to nearby Lanai island on his surfboard in an effort to seek assistance. Aikau was never found, despite the fact that the rest of the crew was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard after a commercial plane spotted the traditional Polynesian voyaging canoe. The air-sea search for Aikau was the biggest in Hawaiian history at the time.

Six years later, The Eddie surf contest was founded and organizer Clyde Aikau and the Eddie Aikau Foundation continue to keep his legacy alive and inspire the next generation to live like Eddie. Part of The Eddie, whether or not the event is held, is an invitation to the inauguration ceremony. This year's opening ceremony for the 34th Annual Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational took place on December 9, 2023. The Eddie's opening ceremony includes a continued expression of Hawaiian culture where recognition and honor to the ‘aina (land) and the kai (ocean) are also given. The Aikau family extends an invitation to the ceremony, whether or not the tournament is held, as a gesture of respect and appreciation.

Did you know: The initial competition of the sponsored event by Quicksilver - Eddie Aikau Invitational, was first held at Sunset Beach in the 1984/1985 winter season?

2. Andrea Moller was in the First Heat, the First Woman and First Female Surfer to Ever Participate in The Eddie!

This was a historic occasion for women's surfing in this year's Eddie as there were six (6) female surfers participating of the forty (40) invited. The female invitees included:

Andrea MollerEmily EricksonJustine DupontKeala KennellyMakani AdricPaige Alms

Andrea Moller was in the first heat and the first woman and first female surfer to ever participate in The Eddie.

There were also six (6) additional women's alternates standing by:

Bianca Valenti • Laura Enever • Raquel Heckert • Silvia Nabuco • Polly Ralda • Isabelle Leonhardt

3. Significance of Big Wave Invitational at Waimea

"The Eddie Big Wave Invitational is aiming to bring focus onto Hawaiian Culture, with a goal to share the stories and legacy of Hawaii with the world."

4. How Many Spectators Want to See the Prestigious Eddie Aikau Big Wave Contest?

Massive crowds of about ~50,000 fans crowd Hawaii's Waimea Bay to watch The Eddie.

5. The Eligibility & Qualifications for Surfers Competing in the Super Bowl of Surfing

  • Invitation: The competition is invitation-only, and surfers are chosen by a committee based on their big wave surfing abilities, and credentials (i.e. world surfing titles).
  • Minimum wave height: The minimum wave height requirement is 20 feet (Hawaiian scale), and the waves must be surfable.
  • Experience: Competitors must have significant experience as big wave surfers and a proven track record of surfing in challenging conditions.
  • Safety: Surfers must be proficient in water safety and rescue techniques.
  • Aloha Spirit: The competition organizers look for surfers who embody the "Aloha Spirit" of respect, humility, and sportsmanship.

6. Wave Conditions Needed for a Safe and Successful Competition

Many look to mother nature to bring the best waves, not necessarily stormy weather that could call off the event. It had only been held nine times since the contest was founded.

The holding period was between December 14, 2022, and March 23, 2023, surf heights must consistently reach 20 feet (Hawaii measurements) or 40-foot wave... with favorable winds and swell conditions.

"The Hawaiian scale is an alternative wave measurement scale expressed in feet that corresponds to roughly 50 percent of the average estimated height of a wave, from trough to crest." -Surfer Today

7. The Prize Money Goes to a Lifeguard?! And Other Benefits for Winners

Winning Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau Memorial Contest is a huge honor and comes with several benefits. It is considered one of the most prestigious titles in surfing, and the winner's name will go down in surfing history. The winner also receives a hefty cash prize and lifetime bragging rights having competed against the best surfers in the world. Many doors may open up for the winner, from endorsement deals to speaking engagements to media appearances. It is an opportunity to be part of something special and make your mark on the sport of surfing.

1st Place: Waimea Bay Lifeguard Luke Shepardson --- won $10,000

Today was a feat for Luke resulting in a total score of 89.1. The local lifeguard was still on duty! He would brave the waves in between his breaks and get back to the tower between heats. Wow!

2nd Place: Former Eddie Winner (2016) and champion John John Florence --- won $8,000

3rd Place: Big-Wave Surfer Mark Healey --- won $5,000

8. Safety Measures for Contestants and Spectators in Place During the Event 

As mentioned previously, only experienced competitors are invited to participate. Plus, wave conditions are monitored carefully. A big standing ovation to the extensive safety support team of lifeguards, medical personnel, rescue divers, and other emergency responders at The Eddie.

9. Ways To Support the Event and Hawaiian Culture

You can donate or purchase Eddie Aikau posters and other merchandise through the Eddie Aikua Foundation which was created to commemorate Eddie Aikau's life, accomplishments, and legacy while promoting advancement and education.

10. How to Watch the Competition Live or Online

The Eddie Aikau Invitational Surf Competition is an annual event held in Oahu, Hawaii and it can be watched live or online.

The competition can be viewed through:

  • To get a glimpse of the spectacle and watch it live, people braved the traffic towards Waimea Valley or were lucky to have couch surfed at a friend's house living nearby on the North Shore.
  • For the rest of the U.S., they tuned in on the official website which offered a live webcast of the event.
  • Courtesy of Surfline, the official forecasting partner of the World Surf League.
  • In addition, Hawaiian television station KHON2.

Additionally, many turned to social media for clips and to catch archived footage from previous competitions on YouTube and other video streaming services.

The last time, we witnessed the big waves and gigantic swell of 50-foot waves was back in 2016 and 2009 which were the most recent times the contest was held. 

Big Wave Invitational at Waimea Bay 2009 - Photos ©️ Maya Sunpongco

This year, we recorded it on the telly and headed out to witness monster waves on a more local scale.

On This Day in History

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