Huge waves bring Hawaii surf contest The Eddie after hiatus

  • Kai Lenny, left, and Aaron Gold, center, are cheered on by Jake Maki, right, in Hawaii's Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore during the The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational surfing contest Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP)

HONOLULU — One of the world’s most prestigious and storied surfing contests — dubbed the “Super Bowl of Surfing” — went forward Sunday in Hawaii for the first time in seven years with towering wave faces and a gigantic swell that was expected to grow throughout the day.

And this year female surfers competed alongside the men for the first time in the 39-year history of The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational.

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The event — alternatively known simply as The Eddie — is a one-day contest held in Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore only when the surf is consistently large enough during the winter big-wave surfing season from mid-December through mid-March. The wind, the tides and the direction of the swell also have to be just right.

“Large enough” means 20 feet (6 meters) by Hawaii measurements. That’s equivalent to about 40 feet (12 meters) when measured by methods used in the rest of the U.S. Before this year, conditions have only aligned for it to be held nine times since the initial competition in 1984.

Organizer Clyde Aikau said at a news conference Friday that he was expecting waves to reach 25 to 30 feet (7.6 to nine meters) by Hawaii measurements or 50 to 60 feet (15 to 18 meters) on the national scale — and the conditions were meeting expectations.

On Sunday, the sets were already big, with the swell expected to grow as the day went on, and an estimated 60,000 people packed the beaches and surrounding area to catch a glimpse of the spectacle. One huge wave swept onto the beach and hit a family, sweeping a baby under a house, but the child was not injured, Hawaii News Now reported.

“We’ve been looking at 30-foot to 40-foot wave faces for the most part, (and) the biggest waves of the day are going to be in excess of 45 feet. By local scale, they’ll call those waves 25 feet — and we’ve seen a couple sets like that already,” Kevin Wallis, director of forecasting at Surfline.com, said by phone Sunday morning.

“It’s amazing, it’s really cool to see and it’s such a rare and prestigious event, and there’s a lot of energy and a lot of buzz,” he said.

Author Stuart Coleman says The Eddie is distinguished from other surf competitions by how it honors Eddie Aikau, a legendary Native Hawaiian waterman, for his selflessness, courage and sacrifice.

Edward Ryon Makuahanai Aikau rose to prominence as the first lifeguard hired by Honolulu to work on Oahu’s North Shore and was revered for saving over 500 people during his career.

He is also famous for surfing towering waves that no one else would dare ride.

Aikau died in 1978 at the age of 31 during an expedition to sail a traditional Polynesian voyaging canoe from Honolulu to Tahiti. Coleman said The Eddie is about the best of big-wave surfing and the best of Hawaiian culture.

“They always say at the opening ceremony, where they gather to launch the holding period, ‘This is not just a contest. We’re not surfing against each other. We’re surfing in the spirit of Eddie,’ ” Coleman said.

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