2023 Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational
Sunday, Janury 22, 2023 marked the 10th running of “the Super Bowl of Surfing.” It is estimated that 50-60,000 people turned up at Waimea Bay, to watch the event live. There were 1.2 million streaming views of the event, by fans in 200+ countries.
Edward Ryon Makuahanai Aikau was born on Maui and grew up to become the 1st Waimea Bay Lifeguard and really the 1st lifeguard of the whole North Shore. He was a selfless family man, champion athlete and one of the greatest waterman to ever live. Credited with 500+ saves in his career. It is more like in the thousands, because according to close friends, he never filled out the reports for each and every rescue he did. Even when the surf was gigantic, “Eddie would go.” Not a single life was lost during Eddie’s service at Waimea Bay.
Eddie tragically was lost at sea at the age of 31 in 1978. He was a crew member aboard the 60+ foot double hulled, voyaging canoe, Hokule’a, that capsized 12 miles south of Moloka’i. The Hokule’a was trying to re-enact the ancient 2600+ mile Polynesian migration path between Hawaii and Tahiti, only using the traditional methods of celestial navigation. Eddie was lost at sea trying to paddle his surfboard to Lana’i to get help on the morning of March 17th, 1978. Fortunately, the rest of his crew members were rescued by the Coast Guard, later that evening. Even after the largest air and sea search in Hawaiian history, Eddie’s body was never found.
To honor the Aikau family and Eddie’s legacy, “The Eddie” at Waimea Bay was conceived in 1985. The world’s biggest surf contest has only been held 10 times. This contest is steeped in culture and it is what legends are made of.
“The Bay Calls the Day” is a phrase you will hear, meaning the contest only is held when the conditions are just right, with consistent 20 foot surf between its December to March holding period. Surfers and spectators fly in from all over the world when the call goes out that the “Eddie is on.” It is not uncommon for the Eddie to be on and then it gets canceled because mother nature is unpredictable and can change her plans. Link to the full contest.
We have been fortunate to have attended the last two Eddies (2016 and 2023). In 2016, it was held on a weekday, so I took my 5 year old daughter out of school that day and we drove to Waimea Bay. We watched the entire event and stayed for the awards ceremony. That is a 12+ hour day, which was a lot to ask of a 5 year old, but she hung in there and we still talk about that contest to this day.
In 2023, they made some great changes to the contest. For the first time, there were women in the event and then changed the scoring structure to promote more camaraderie between the 40 contestants. In previous years, there were elimination rounds. In 2023, each contestant had two rounds to surf, with a maximum of 4 waves. The top 3 wave scores threw the day would be the final score. A big change, was the winner of the 2016 contest received $75,000. The winner of 2023, got $10,000 and 350k Hawaiian Miles (roughly $3,500)… Kind of a big difference. Seems like if you are going to be the “Biggest Surf Contest”, you should have a commensurate pay day for the surfers risking their lives. Lastly, there was a greater emphasis placed on Hawaiian culture and language. More emphasis was placed upon the place, the heiau on the hill, the meaning of words, etc. Instead of a contest, it was more of a celebration of the sport of surfing and how the sport originated in Hawaii.
My daughter had a sleepover, this time around, so I took my two boys, ages 7 and 9. We woke up at 4 am, on the day of the event to drive out to the North Shore. We went the Kahuku way and saw water splashing on the highway in several places, so we knew it was BIG.
We expected to park at Off-The-Walls or Pipe area, like in 2016, but we were already seeing people parking and walking from Velzy Land. Turned around once we saw wall-to-wall parking on the highway and got a spot by Sunset. We road bikes in and it just started to get light when we road by Pipe and got to catch our first glimpse of the epicness.
We finished our almost 3-mile bike ride from Sunset Beach to the Bay and it was packed. Many of the attendees had camped out on the side of the road to ensure they would get a spot to watch. So much excitement in the air and you could feel and hear the concussion of the waves crashing down. Carved out a spot for us to watch on the hillside. After 3 hours of driving, bike riding and walking we finally had our seat at the Eddie… with in 5 minutes, the 7 year old said, “can we go home.” SMH. Luckily, we had the live broadcast on my phone and that stretched it out until about noon. We headed back home and watched the awards ceremony on the TV.
It was a memorable day that I’m sure the boys won’t forget anytime soon. Mahalo to all the sponsors that kept the contest going this year and to HPD, HFD, EMS & the Life Guards for keeping everyone safe that day. Congrats to Luke Shepardson! Here’s a link to the news recap video.
January 26, 2023
Awesome job Jake. Your boys are getting so big. What a great day making memories to share and last a lifetime. Thank you for sharing.