Last held in 2009, the 2016 Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational was called on yesterday at Waimea Bay, with waves reaching 60 feet, the biggest of the event's 31-year history. John John Florence bested a field of the biggest names in big-wave surfing including Greg Long, Kelly Slater, and Shane Dorian in front of 25,000 screaming fans lining the Hawaiian bay.
"I was riding my bike down here this morning in the dark, and just the energy of how many people were parked all the way down the street blew me away," says Florence. "I've lived here my whole life, and I've never seen it like that. Walking down the beach with people screaming, the energy was so crazy. I've never been a part of an event like this. It's definitely the highlight of my life."
During a winter season that has seen no shortage of big waves and time running out to hold the event, in the end, it was the absolute day of days at Waimea Bay. Clyde Aikau, Eddie Aikau's younger brother, who has been a contestant at all nine Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational events through 31 years, was one of the first competitors to catch a wave, and said it was the "best and biggest at Waimea Bay I've seen in the last 40 years." A clear crowd favorite, drawing a standing ovation as he walked to the shoreline with his surfboard, Aikau, 66, also announced this would be his last event as a competitor.
The huge swell was dubbed "Brock's Swell" in honor of long-time Eddie invitee and Hawaiian big wave rider Brock Little, who lost his battle with cancer just last week. In all, 141 dramatic rides were logged over the day, including gutsy rides by Eddie Aikau rookies Koa Rothman and Mason Ho, last-minute alternate starters Danilo Couto and Ben Wilkinson, and emotionally charged, seasoned rides by Slater and Dorian, in memory of close friend Brock Little.
"I want to say thanks to the Aikau family and Quiksilver for putting on this amazing event," Florence said. "I've only seen it run a couple of times in my life, so to be a part of it, to be surfing in it, and to actually win it is such a dream come true … against all these legends. These guys are my heroes since I've been growing up."