“That’s Why Big Wave Surfing Is So Insane”

Professional surfer Jeremy Flores rides a wave during the first round of The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau at Waimea Bay on February 25, 2016 in Waimea, Hawaii.
Professional surfer Jeremy Flores rides a wave during the first round of The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau at Waimea Bay on February 25, 2016 in Waimea, Hawaii.  Darryl Oumi / Getty Images

As a commentator for the World Surf League's Championship Tour, Joe Turpel is quickly becoming the new voice of modern day competitive surfing, translating jargon into something non-surfers can relate to without losing the in-the-know cadence of a dedicated wave rider. We caught up with Turpel after he finished announcing the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational Event at Waimea Bay last week to get his thoughts on one of the most memorable days in big wave surfing's history.

How does the judging work in the Eddie, and what makes it different than traditional WCT contests?
Every wave is scored out of 100 points. Seven judges score the ride between 1 and 20. Drop the high and the low score and add up the remaining five. You can only catch four waves per hour-long heat. Surfers have two heats. Their top four rides from both heats are scored for their placing. So there are no elimination rounds or man on man competition like the World Championship Tour. 

Who really stepped up and surprised you with their performance in this event? 
I really enjoyed watching the younger generation charge. Koa Rothman, a young local Hawaiian was absolutely going for it. He's got a special connection with Waimea Bay and looked really comfortable surfing it on his backhand as well. Which can be really difficult.

What were the five biggest moments in this year's Eddie?
1. When the huge set came to close out the bay and the water patrol had to spin around and gun it for the beach to avoid getting mowed down by 40-foot waves. That was so intense, but they did it with total control.

2. Seeing Clyde Aikau paddle out at 66 and then take off on some bombs to honor his brother was breathtaking.

3. I thought Jamie O'Brien was insane to watch in the morning. He definitely took off on some of the biggest waves of the day.

4. Kelly Slater getting barreled for Brock Little. Watching that go down was really emotional.

5. John John Florence winning. He's redefining an era. And he proved that there's nothing that he can't do. He's clearly the best surfer in the world.

What's it like to be on the beach during the event?
The beach is packed in the dark well before the sun comes up. As the sets come, the lifeguards are constantly managing a crowd of thousands, with loudspeakers and roving guards, making sure nobody gets swept away. It's real intense when a 40-foot set comes in and you know somebody in the water is about to take it on. It's something pretty special to take in that kind of energy for an entire day. 

What was the most intense moment?
The wipeouts are always intense. Twiggy jumped off the roof of one and free-fell for about 30 feet. I also got scared for Kala Alexander and Makua Rothman when they got tangled up in the lip. They both soldiered on and kept charging though. That was inspiring.

How do you describe big wave surfing to someone who doesn't surf?
It really does feel like a different sport. A group of select people put themselves in life-threatening conditions because they love it. They love the ride and the people they surf with. Some rides are strictly survival and trying to out run a 40-foot bomb. And surfers now are performing maneuvers on these waves when possible. Every single ride is memorable and takes your mind to a place it's never been. That's why big wave surfing is so insane to watch.