The Eddie Aikau and big waves draw 50,000 to the North Shore

First-Hand Report
Jade Eckardt

WAIMEA—Over the weekend, with what was supposed to be a 30-foot-swell headed our way, the North Shore prepared for possible damage and evacuation. That worry was dwarfed by the excitement for what would be the first Quicksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau contest at Waimea Bay in years. Rumors buzzed that it was supposed to be the biggest swell since 1969, when many beach front homes were pushed onto Kamehameha Highway by huge waves.

We woke up to huge waves on Sunday, with the beach blocked off from ʻEhukai Beach Park to deter people from swimming in the windy and choppy ocean. That night we called off our barbecue to prepare our house and yard for waves that were expected to have 60-foot faces. We gathered the surfboards from under our house, brought everything inside, and put a block in front of my son’s ocean facing bedroom door, wondering if we would eventually need sand bags. We even tied down the stairs that lead from our yard to trees on the beach with rope.

A family down at Rock Piles packed up everything and evacuated their house. The whole family went to stay with friends up in Pūpūkea, leaving their home empty with boarded up windows. Up and down the beach, everyone was taking precautions. “I’m going home to strap my stairs down,” my neighbor Ralph said on Sunday. “They were built to fold up just for this reason but they’re too rusted now. Its pretty crazy what can happen. I’ve been here 30 years and have seen some stuff get destroyed when the waves get like this.”

Monday morning the ocean looked scary. Huge waves were breaking far beyond where I have ever seen them break. My son woke me up asking if he could skip school if the Eddie happened. “Barely anybody’s going to class if it’s on,” he said, trying to convince me. “Their parents all said they could go to Waimea and watch.”

Waimea was filled with surfers and contest affiliates while George Downing, executive director of the Eddie and now 79 years-old, decided if the waves were big enough to fit the 20 foot (Hawaiian Style) minimum size required to hold the contest that hasn’t happened in five years, due to insufficient size. With the ocean stormy, choppy, and the waves blown out, Downing called the contest off, saying the waves weren’t quite big enough for the contest which hadn’t been held since 2004, when Kauaʻi surfer Bruce Irons took first place. The anticipation that had been buzzing through the North Shore was gone, but the traffic was not.

Since before dawn, the traffic had been bumper-to-bumper and barely moving. “It took me an hour and a half to get from Sunset Beach to Waimea, and then another 45 minutes from there to Haleʻiwa on my way to work,” said Kalindi Jacoby on Sunday. Walking down the bike path that evening, I moved along much faster than the people in cars and ran into neighbors who had opted to ride their bike to Foodland for groceries.

“It took me an hour and a half to get from Sunset Beach to Waimea, and then another 45 minutes from there to Haleʻiwa on my way to work.”

On Monday night, the rumor had been that the Eddie would probably happen the next day because bigger waves and cleaner condition were expected. The waves were still huge in front of my house, but now it was glassy, sunny, and beautiful—rare conditions for the size of waves that had broken already broken one step of my stairs. Again, my son asked if he could stay home to watch the contest. Around 7:30 a.m. the official word was that it was not happening and I sent him across the street to school. Minutes after he left we heard the news, the contest was on. Within minutes I ran across the street to find him before he went to class. Looking around the school I realized he was right, we didn’t see many of his classmates.

We rode our bikes to Waimea—we had no other option as traffic was at a complete halt on Kamehameha Highway. People were making three point turns to turn around in the middle of the road after they had given up and were heading back east. Trucks were filled with people already drinking and partying before noon. Numerous North Shore residents were renting out any space they could for parking around their homes for $40, and with people coming and going all day, they must have been making good money. Cars were parked in every nook and cranny, almost in people’s yards, on private roads, and on small stretches of grass between the bike path and the highway. Even the bike path was crowded with bicycles and skateboards.

From Shark’s Cove on, it was truly hectic. Locals manned hot dog booths and sold T-shirts on the side of the road. Near Waimea, contest goers were lined up peering over residents’ driveway gates to get a view of the waves. On the east side of the bay by the cement wall, the crowd was so thick with visitors and their cameras that there was no room for us to look over the wall too. Walking from there across the beach was impossible. Several people I knew were even riding their bikes to and from work in Haleʻiwa in the mid-day sun to avoid the traffic.

According to Quicksilver’s website, over 50,000 people came to Waimea watch the world’s best big wave surfers compete in honor of Eddie Aikau. During the hour-long heats, there was some speculation that the waves were not a solid 20 feet. “It’s more like 15 feet,” said one North Shore surfer. “They should have held it yesterday even though it was windy.”

Others said it had been bigger in the morning but had dropped a little bit. Still, the crowed was intrigued and thrilled with each wave caught.

Jamie O’Brien’s wave in the second round ended with a shore break barrel that got everyone on the beach dropping their jaws in awe. Right after that, Andy Irons did almost the same thing, resulting in a lost board with friend Marcus Hickman bringing him a new one. The Hawaiian Water Patrol, a crew of the North Shore’s best lifeguards, spent the entire day in the lineup on jet skis watching out for the surfer’s safety.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with spectators, I could hear “mainland,” European, and South American accents all around me. People were here from all over the world to watch these guys risk their lives to pay tribute to a Hawaiian legend.

In the end it was California’s Greg Long, only 26-years-old and surfing Waimea for his first time during the contest, who collected the first place prize of $55,000. Kelly Slater, nine time world champion and Eddie winner in 2002, placed second after leading in points for part of the day and earned $10,000. Hawaiʻi’s Sunny Garcia took third and won $3,000. Defending Eddie champion Bruce Irons from Kauaʻi took fourth place and won $3,000.

First time Eddie competitor Ramon Navarro from Chile was awarded the Monster Drop Award for the gnarly-yet-successful takeoff of the day. Navarro also took fifth place, with his monster drop being one of the last waves of the contest. The crowed went nuts as Navarro took the huge drop going right and backside, eventually emerging from a huge waterfall of whitewash and riding it all the way to the beach. Navarro took home $10,000 for the Monster Drop Award and $2,000 for fifth place.

Big waves, a beautiful sunny day, and having the luck to watch one of surfing’s most important and rare contests made for a great day. I think the class-cutting sixth grade had a good time too, as I saw the majority of them running around the beach. If you make it to the next contest, remember to park in Haleʻiwa and ride your bike, moped or skateboard out to the North Shore.

RESULTS: Listed in order of 1st through 28th and points earned
Greg Long (California) 323
Kelly Slater (Florida)  313
Sunny Garcia (Hawaiʻi) 292
Bruce Irons (Hawaiʻi)  276
Ramon Navarro (Chile) and the Monster Drop Award 267
Ross Clarke-Jones (Australia) 257
Jamie O’Brien (Hawaiʻi) 252
Mark Healey (Hawaiʻi) 246
Garret McNamara (Hawaiʻi) 243
Noah Johnson (Hawaiʻi) 241
Shane Dorian (Hawaiʻi) 229
Makuakai Rothman (Hawaiʻi) 226
Reef McIntosh (Hawaiʻi) 222
Andy Irons (Hawaiʻi) 221
Grant Baker (Hawaiʻi) 215
Carlos Burle (Brazil) 202
Kohl Chrtistensen (Hawaiʻi) 201
Kala Alexander (Hawaiʻi) 200
Peter Mel (USA) 195
Takayuki Wakita (Japan) 187
Ibon Amatriain (Spain) 187
Clyde Aikau (Hawaiʻi) 168
Keone Downing (Hawaiʻi) 167
Mike Ho (Hawaiʻi) 160
Darryl ‘Flea’ Virostko (USA) 155
Brian Keaulana (Hawaʻii) 148
Rusty Keaulana (Hawaiʻi) 122
Pancho Sullivan (Hawaiʻi) 70