6 Reasons We’re Stoked for the Eddie Aikau Surf Contest

Six surfers drop into a wave during pre-contest surfing at the Eddie Aikau Big-Wave Invitational on December 8, 2009 in Waimea, Hawaii. The rare contest, which attracts big wave surfers from around the world, is held in memory of Hawaiian surf and lifeguard legend Eddie Aikau only when the waves are over 40 feet.
Six surfers drop into a wave during pre-contest surfing at the Eddie Aikau Big-Wave Invitational on December 8, 2009 in Waimea, Hawaii. The rare contest, which attracts big wave surfers from around the world, is held in memory of Hawaiian surf and lifeguard legend Eddie Aikau only when the waves are over 40 feet. Kent Nishimura / Getty Images

Each winter, the world’s best big-wave surfers gather at Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore to honor surfing legend Eddie Aikau by competing in the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau. The single-day event could happen at any time over the next three months, but it’s only called on when the waves are the size of a four-story apartment complex. And thanks to El Niño, this year is looking good. Here’s what you need to know about what’s considered to be one of the most prestigious surf events in the world. 

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Eddie Aikau is worth remembering.
The contest is held in honor of famous surfer Eddie Aikau at legendary Waimea Bay, an iconic big-wave break on Oahu’s North Shore that’s sacred to native Hawaiians and considered the birthplace of big-wave surfing. During his tenure as the first official lifeguard at Waimea Bay, Aikau developed a reputation as one of the best big-wave riders in the world. Working with his younger brother and fellow lifeguard Clyde (who still competes in the Eddie), the pair never lost a life at Waimea Bay on their watch. Aikau saved over 500 people personally. Surfing every major swell on the North Shore from 1967 to 1978, Aikau is considered the epitome of aloha spirit. As a crewmember of the ill-fated Hokule’a, he attempted to paddle on his surfboard and get help after the ship capsized in a storm and was lost at sea in 1978. 

It hasn’t happened in six years.
Actually, “The Eddie,” as it’s commonly referred to, has been held just eight times since its inception in 1984. Surfers are only called on when the conditions are perfect. Over 20 feet of open ocean swell is required for the event to even be considered, which usually means wave faces around 40 feet. During the event, groups of six surfers surf for an hour at a time. Each surfer gets two one-hour sessions. The best two waves are totaled, and the highest score wins.

And it’s always a surprise.
There is a three-month holding period every winter when the event can take place — any time between December 1 and the last day in February. However, a rare combination of huge, consistent waves, good weather, and favorable winds must all come together for the event to be called “On.” Competitors from around the world are given 12 hours from the time the event is announced to get to Oahu’s North Shore, check in, and be ready to surf. Every year, an opening ceremony is held during the first week of December. All the invited surfers gather on the beach to pay homage to Eddie and the Aikau family, along with the sacred bay and valley of Waimea.

But El Niño increases the chances that it’s on this year.
The event might be on this year, thanks to El Niño–powered superstorms in the North Pacific. The last time it was held, Greg Long stunned the big-wave community with his final-moment victory against Kelly Slater in 2009. Long went on to become the only big-wave surfer to win every major big-wave competition.

No one can just crash the competition.
From big-name surfers like Kelly Slater to big-wave chargers like Albee Layer, the competitor’s list of 28 surfers is by invite only. There is no official way to qualify for the event. The invited competitors are chosen by a small selection committee and based on a host of factors including the respect and admiration of fellow big-wave surfers.

But you can go for the party.
If there’s one thing every invitee and competitor always says about The Eddie, it’s that the whole event is much more of a celebration of big-wave surfing and Eddie’s life and spirit than a competition. The surfers cheer for each other and even share waves during the contest. “One of the best things about the big-wave community is that it feels like a big family,” says Greg Long. “Everyone respects each other and looks out for each other. The whole thing is just a celebration of Eddie’s life and the aloha spirit.”