For those unfamiliar, The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational is a monumental event in surfing that, until last Sunday, hasn’t run since 2015. The celebrated contest is held in memory of the famed North Shore lifeguard and waterman Eddie Aikau. The North Shore hero is credited with saving over 500 lives. Eddie met an early demise while crewing a boat as part of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. The boat capsized in the open sea, and Eddie decided to paddle toward shore to fetch help for his crew members and was never seen again. Beyond his work saving lives, Eddie Aikau was a highly accomplished surfer and big wave pioneer, riding his iconic red board at maxing Waimea Bay and winning the 1977 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championship. Each year, the Aikau family invites the best watermen and women to an opening ceremony where they honor the life of Eddie Aikau. The contest, on the other hand, only runs when Waimea Bay reaches its maximum swell size. Because conditions must be perfect, the Eddie has only been held 9 times since 1985. This past Sunday, a historic swell hit the Hawaiian Islands, and the event was called on. The find out what happened, continue reading below.
A Rising Swell Leads to Glory & Carnage in This Year’s Eddie
Crowds gathered through the weekend, even camping overnight to get a chance to watch the Eddie go down. The contest began early in the morning with 40-foot faces and a rising swell. The North Shore’s own John John Florence started heat 1 with a bang, catching two quick rides. The contest featured the best big wave riders from around the planet. Throughout the event, Hawaii’s surfers seemed to shine the brightest, including our very own Jamie O’Brien. With 40 total competitors and 18 alternates, the single-day contest lasted the majority of Sunday. During heats, each competitor was scored on four total waves ridden, making wave selection almost as important as the rides themselves. Because the contest is such a rare occurrence, many surfers chose to paddle out with injuries. Both Billy Kemper and Makua Rothman battled through the pain of serious knee injuries they suffered the previous week, during Da Hui Backdoor Shootout. Billy Kemper managed to tough out one of the heaviest wipeouts of the day and ended the contest in 4th place.
Women and Men Competed Side by Side
Beyond the record-breaking swell, this year’s Eddie Invitational was historic for its inclusion of women in the contest. Among the 40 invitees were 6 women competitors who more than held their own throughout the event. Women’s Big Wave Champion Keala Kennelly wowed the crowd with her fearlessness as she took off on some of the biggest sets of the day, free-falling several stories on one wave.
A North Shore Lifeguard Defied the Odds and Took Home the Trophy
The Eddie ended poetically with North Shore’s Luke Shepardson taking home the trophy. Luke Shepardson is a North Shore lifeguard who was on duty during the contest and paddled out in his guard trunks after leaving the lifeguard stand for his heat. Like the legendary Eddie Aikau, Luke showed immeasurable skill and superior knowledge of the ocean with his wave selection. After taking off on bomb after bomb, the lifeguard found himself atop the leaderboard at the end of the last heat with a total wave score of 89.1, beating out former Eddie Winner John John Florence for the title.
If you missed this year’s Eddie, there’s still plenty of winter surfing action to catch on the North Shore. Book your stay at Turtle Bay Resort to stay in the heart of Oahu’s North Shore. If you feel like braving the Hawaiian surf yourself, our professional surf instructors will teach you to surf in the calm waters of Turtle Bay at our North Shore Surf School.