Hawaii surfing competition The Eddie returns with women competing alongside men for the first time

HONOLULU — One of the world’s most prestigious and storied surfing contests is expected to be held Sunday in Hawaii for the first time in seven years.

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

The event – ​​alternatively known simply as The Eddie – is a one-day competition held in Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore only when the waves are consistently big enough during the winter big wave surfing season from mid-December to mid-March. The wind, tide and direction of the swell must also be just right.

“Big enough” means 20 feet by Hawaiian standards. That equates to about 40 feet measured by methods used in the rest of the United States. Prior to this year, conditions have only been aligned for it to be held nine times since the first competition in 1984.

Organizer Clyde Aikau said at a news conference Friday that he expected waves to reach 25-30 feet at Hawaii targets or 50-60 feet on a national scale.

“Yes, The Eddie is leaving on Sunday,” he said.

Other places around the world have big wave surfing events: Mavericks in California, Nazaré in Portugal and Peʻahi on Hawaii’s Maui Island. But writer Stuart Coleman says The Eddie stands out in how it honors Eddie Aikau, a legendary native Hawaiian waterman, for his selflessness, courage and sacrifice.

“What makes this pageant most unique is that it commemorates a particular person who truly transcended his time and place when he was alive,” said Coleman, who wrote “Eddie Would Go,” a biography of Aikau.

Edward Ryon Makuahanai Aikau rose to prominence as the first lifeguard hired by Honolulu to work on Oahu’s North Shore and was credited with saving over 500 people during his career. He is also known for surfing high waves that no one else would dare to ride.

Aikau died in 1978 at the age of 31 during an expedition to sail a traditional Polynesian sailing canoe from Honolulu to Tahiti. Just hours out of port, the giant double-hulled canoe known as the Hokulea took on water and capsized in stormy weather. Aikau volunteered to paddle several miles to nearby Lanai Island on his surfboard to get help for the rest of the crew, but was never seen again.

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued the remaining crew a few hours later after being alerted by a commercial aircraft that spotted the canoe.

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 start the event, ‘This isn’t just a competition. We’re not surfing against each other. We’re surfing in Eddie’s spirit,'” Coleman said.

This year, organizers have invited 40 competitors and 18 alternates from around the world, including Kelly Slater, who has won a record 11 world surfing titles. John John Florence, who hails from the North Shore and has won two back-to-back world titles, has also been asked to join.

Keala Kennelly of Kauai, a women’s big wave surfing champion, is among the female invitees.

Mindy Pennybacker, a surfing columnist for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and author of the upcoming book “Surfing Sisterhood Hawaii: Wahine Reclaiming the Waves,” said there has long been an assumption that Waimea was too dangerous for women and they couldn’t surf there.

She said they have had to fight to be included and in the meantime have shown they could handle big waves in places around the world.

“To see women — not just women surfing at Waimea, but women and men sharing the same event together, with mutual respect and equality — I’m just really thrilled by the thought,” Pennybacker said.

The competition is expected to attract tens of thousands of spectators to the two-lane highway that winds through the North Shore and the small towns that surround the coastal community.

Kathleen Pahinui, chair of the North Shore Neighborhood Board, said it will be good for businesses, restaurants and shops. She encouraged visitors to carpool and take the bus because the roads will be crowded.

“I wish all the contestants the best of luck,” she said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *