What's So Special About The Eddie?
COASTALWATCH | Interviews
The holding period for the 31st Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau big wave event is running out. Between 1st December 2015 and 29th February 2016, the event's invited surfers await the call to load their truck with a quiver of the finest guns in the world and head to Waimea Bay, Hawaii. A slow moving low-pressure system is speculatively pushing 25-30 foot waves towards the islands. The swell is predicted to peak early Thursday 28th January but the wind will play a crucial part in whether conditions are right. Surfers are on edge as the energy quickly builds with the prospect of the Eddie being run for the first time in 5 years.
We’ve spoken to the first international winner of the Eddie event, Ross Clarke-Jones and Hawaiian Prince, Mason Ho about their preparation in the lead-up. But first, here’s the background…
Eddie Aikau was no ordinary surfer. He was a man of the sea and one of the most fit, intuitive watermen in Hawaii. He was the first official lifeguard at the treacherous Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu where he and older brother Clyde, proudly never lost a life on their watch in the ten years they worked together.
"Eddie was a pretty quiet guy but when there was a challenge, or some risk to be taken, or a game to be played that everybody wanted to win, Eddie seemed to rise to the top. He was high risk at an early age," Clyde said of his younger brother.
It wasn’t just his extraordinary ability as a waterman that earned him the respect of the community, it was his formidable audacity to surf every single major swell that hit the North Shore between 1967 and 1978, that made him one of the best big wave surfers of his time. It’s reported that on 19th November, 1967, Aikau surfed what became the biggest recorded day at Waimea Bay – some 30 foot on the sets – without fear or hesitation, prompting the now well-known saying ‘Eddie would go’.
Apart from his remarkable natural talent and prowess in the water, Aikau also travelled to some of the world’s famous breaks carrying a calm vibe of unity and personified the true characteristics of his country’s ancient sport. He brought people together at a time when issues were culminating and surf culture was evolving rapidly.
In 1978, the life of Eddie Aikau was tragically cut short. Following a well-travelled route between Hawaii and Tahiti onboard the Hokule’a, the vessel capsized mid-crossing. Aikau valiantly took to his surfboard in effort to reach land and aid the rescue of his crewmates. It was the quest that would be his last. His body was never recovered but his legacy is forever ingrained in Hawaiian culture.
It was 1985 before the first Eddie event was held at Sunset Beach and the same year the event was moved to its rightful and current location of Waimea Bay. That year, it was won by Clyde Aikau at a height of 20 feet. Despite being only run eight times, the event and its namesake are celebrated each year with an emotional and iconic opening ceremony.
In the lead-up to what could be an ‘on’ call for the Eddie in 2016, 2001 winner Ross Clarke-Jones and first time Aikau pick, and first alternate, Mason Ho talked to us about what the whole experience is really like.
RCJ was first invited to compete in 1987, just a year after his first professional event at the Billabong Pro, Waimea Bay and he says “It was an experience; to be put mildly.” Before the internet, surfers relied on experienced forecasters and locals to communicate the swells by word-of-mouth.” He continues: “As a young whippersnapper, I never listened to the right people on that first year and called bulls--t on the swell. Nothing was going to stop my plans to visit Las Vegas.”
Way to put a fresher out on a limb, mid-way through an all-nighter on the first night of the period, they called the Eddie on. “Can you imagine getting the call at 4.30am to surf a big wave event that day? I was not in a state fit for public display let alone surfing maxed-out Waimea Bay.” He was 1000 miles away but somehow managed to load himself on a plane, smoke-bombing his mates and making it back to Hawaii and in the event line-up, taking home a 7th place.
The Ho family are as ingrained in modern surf culture on the North Shore as the Aikaus, making the invitation a deeply spiritual and symbolic milestone for Mason.
Mason Ho comes from a family of surfing champions and he has been placed on the list as the first alternate as the Aikau family pick for this year’s event. He says: “It’s one of the biggest honours of my life to be picked by the Aikaus to surf The Eddie. When I got the invite it felt like I’d just won a whole contest.”
The Ho family are as ingrained in modern surf culture on the North Shore as the Aikaus, making the invitation a deeply spiritual and symbolic milestone for Mason. “The two families have been surfing in Hawaii together since the days before the ‘50s. Our family ties run real deep and my dad used to surf, hang out and compete with Uncle Eddie and Clyde Aikau.”
“I’ve been to almost every ceremony since I was five years old or maybe younger. It’s been a bookmark in my life. I’ve seen everyone run in my lifetime and the opening ceremony is a real power boost of special energy for me.”
For Ross, the experience is totally different but equally as symbolic. For him it’s a supreme honour to be one of the few Australians / International invitees since its inauguration. He says, “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, every surfer is proud to be on the list. Tom Carroll and I were the only guys for a while. Now we’re joined by Jamie Mitchell, a well-deserved invitee and I have no doubt that Mark Mathews isn’t far off. It means everything to be invited to the Eddie Aikau as a big wave surfer – it means a lot to me.”
When the waves are “shaking the island’s floor”, as Mason describes it, they’re powerful, hungry and fierce, yet tiny-in-comparison humans take to their mammoth death-defying peaks to prove themselves and draw a new internal strength.
Mason says: “It hasn’t got to Eddie size and conditions for almost six or seven years now from memory. I’ve surfed out there maybe three-feet shy of Eddie size. The waves feel like you’re riding a rush of jungle animals that just got let out of the zoo to run free back to the jungle. When you fall, and you do, lions, tigers and bears hold you down.”
“When the waves show up, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen,” says Ross. Maybe it would compare to back in the days of the Coliseum and Roman Gladiators doing battle in front of thousands of people. The noise as the wave approaches is like the roar of the crowds and the beating of the drums out on the point, sending shivers down your spine. Mavericks is comparable, for sure, but the amphitheater and spectators that roll up at the Eddie create a really unique, indescribable energy.”
"The waves feel like you’re riding a rush of jungle animals that just got let out of the zoo to run free back to the jungle."
“The rules of the Eddie are simple,” Ross says. “A wave comes and everyone just goes for it. It’s kind of nice that you can drop in and not get punched out. You can go, but if you’re on the inside you score higher points so it really changes things. Everyone’s respectful in the line-up by giving room and not cutting each other’s line.”
The Eddie’s not only known for its spectacularly large waves but also the wipeouts. Ross has a spectacular recollection of his best and worst wipeout with brother of the waves, Tom Carroll in the ‘90s.
“We were both frothing on the peak, in the perfect position … so we thought. We both stood up facing each other and got pitched and jacked up over the falls with brutal force. Tangled together, bashing our boards and fins, heads, elbows, knees and backs, all the while being pinned to the bottom with boulders.” They both surfaced with snapped boards and eyes bulging.; coughing and spluttering, red-faced. “That was the ONLY time we did not come up laughing.” He confesses.
For Mason, the lead up to what could possibly be a green light ahead of his first Eddie Aikau event, is a time of quiet contemplation. If he gets that call he says, “I’ll take a couple of nice deep breaths, think of pulling into the biggest peak and shore break. I’ll stay warm, take my vitamins and start talking to my Waimea board like it’s my girlfriend.”
For now, they wait.
The 2015/2016 Invitees are:
(listed by first name alphabetical order)
- Aaron Gold
- Albee Layer
- Bruce Irons
- Clyde Aikau
- Dave Wassel
- Garrett McNamara
- Grant Baker
- Greg Long
- Ian Walsh
- Jamie Mitchell
- Jamie O'Brien
- Jeremy Flores
- John John Florence
- Kala Alexander
- Kelly Slater
- Kohl Christensen
- Makua Rothman
- Mark Healey
- Nathan Fletcher
- Noah Johnson
- Peter Mel
- Ramon Navarro
- Reef McIntosh
- Ross Clarke-Jones
- Shane Dorian
- Sunny Garcia
- Takayuki Wakita
- Tom Carroll
Official Alternates (in seeding order):
- Mason Ho (Aikau Pick)
- Danilo Couto
- Mark Matthews
- Koa Rothman
- Ben Wilkinson
- Jamie Sterling
- Billy Kemper
- Shawn Dollar
- Carlos Burle
- Kealii Mamala
- Gabriel Villaran
- Michael Ho
- Kai Lenny
- Kahea Hart
- Nathan Florence
- Damien Hobgood
- Kalani Chapman
- Ryan Hipwood
- Danny Fuller
- Nic Lamb
- Anthony Tashnick
- Rusty Long
- Derek Dunfee
- Brock Little
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