Eddie Would Go

Written by Stephenie Brown

Waimea Bay hosted the 39th opening ceremony for The Eddie Big Wave Invitational Surf Contest, in memory of Eddie Aikau, on December 8th, 2023. The nearly perfect day started with multiple hula performances, followed by a Hawaiian blessing, announcing the names of the 63 invited surfers and their alternates, and a paddle out to honor Eddie Aikau. Making it extra sacred and special was the presence of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, established in 1864. The Aikau Ohana are descendants of Hewahewa, a kahuna nui or high priest in the royal court of Kamehameha I.

spectators watching surfer on big wave on oahu beach

The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational is the most prestigious event in the sport of surfing. It’s been called The Super Bowl of surfing. It’s a one-day contest that can be held between December 14th and March 13th, 2024. The contest will run only if wave heights reach the minimum 40-foot faces. For that reason the contest isn’t able to run every year. However, many are hopeful that the contest may run this year because of El Nino. The saying goes, ‘The Bay Calls The Day.’

One requirement for the contest is that surfers must paddle in to catch waves. Just as Eddie did. Tow in surfing, popular amongst big wave surfers, is not allowed. It is held at Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu and only the world’s best big wave surfers in the world are invited. The popular saying, “Eddie Would Go,” refers to Eddie taking on big waves that other surfers would not. It also speaks of his courage in making a rescue in impossible situations.

The Aikau Ohana and The Eddie Aikau Foundation are hosts of the event selecting invitees that may have been overlooked otherwise. Last year’s contest was won by a previously unknown Waimea Bay Lifeguard and surfer, Luke Shepardson. He was actually working as a Lifeguard during the event, and took a break to paddle out to surf his heat. Winning The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational is the most coveted title in surfing and since its inception in 1985, this event has only been held ten times.

Edward Ryan Makuahanai Aikau, famously known as Eddie Aikau, was a Native Hawaiian waterman, and surfing champion. He won many surf contests including the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championship. In 1968 he became the first Lifeguard hired by the City & County of Honolulu on the North Shore. During his shift he’d cover all of the beaches between Sunset and Haleiwa. Not one life was lost while he was on duty. He is credited with saving more than five hundred lives during his career. In 1971, Eddie was named Lifeguard of the Year.

painting of eddie aikau

Eddie became involved in perpetuating his Hawaiian heritage in the 1970s. He became a member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and was chosen to sail the Hokule’a on a 2500-mile voyage from the Hawaiian islands to Tahitian islands. The Hokule’a left the Hawaiian Islands on March 16, 1978. The double-hulled voyaging canoe developed a leak in one of the hulls and capsized in stormy weather and high seas, about twelve miles south of the island of Molokai. After the crew was in the open ocean overnight, suffering from hypothermia, exposure and exhaustion, Eddie Aikau attempted to get to land to save his crew and the Hokule’a. Eddie Aikau paddled toward Lanai on his surfboard. Hours later a commercial airplane spotted the Hokule’a and the rest of the crew was soon rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard, but Eddie Aikau was never seen again. After a massive air, sea and land search Eddie Aikau was declared missing at sea. A plaque on the Hokule’a in remembrance of Eddie Aikau reads, “No greater love has a man than this, that he lay down his life his friends.”

large bouquet of pink tropical flowers

group of hula dancers pose for photo

hawaiian hula dancers

The legend and legacy of Eddie Aikau lives on through The Big Wave Invitational Surf Contest, the Polynesian Voyaging Society and The Eddie Aikau Foundation. For more information or to get involved with The Eddie Aikau Foundation, visit the website at or email There is good to be done.

2023-2024 INVITEES

  • Aaron Gold
  • Ben Wilkinson
  • Bianca Valenti
  • Billy Kemper
  • Eli Olson
  • Emily Erickson
  • Eric Haas
  • Ezekiel Lau
  • Felicity Palmateer
  • Francisco Porcella
  • Grant Twiggy Baker
  • Jack Robinson
  • Jake Maki
  • Jamie Mitchell
  • John John Florence
  • Kai Lenny
  • Keali’i Mamala
  • Keito Matsuoka
  • Kelly Slater
  • Koa Rothman
  • Kohl Christensen
  • Landon McNamara
  • Laura Enever
  • Lucas Chumbo Chianca
  • Luke Shepardson
  • Makani Adric
  • Makuakai Rothman
  • Mark Healey
  • Mason Ho
  • Matahi Drollet
  • Matt Bromley
  • Nathan Florence
  • Nic Lamb
  • Nic von Rupp
  • Paige Alms
  • Peter Mel
  • Ross Clarke-Jones
  • Seth Moniz
  • Torrey Meister
  • Tyler Larronde

eddie aikau painting

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