One of the world’s most prestigious surfing competitions returned to Hawaii this weekend for the first time in seven years.
The competition, in which female surfers competed alongside men for the first time, was greeted with high waves and a giant wave.
The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational – also known as The Eddie – is a one-day competition held on Waimea Bay on Oahu’s north coast only when the waves are consistently big enough during the winter big wave surfing season from mid-December to mid-March.
Wind, tides and wave direction also need to be right.
“Big enough” means 20 feet (6 meters) measured in Hawaii. This corresponds to about 40 feet (12 meters) measured by methods used in the rest of the United States. Prior to this year, conditions had adjusted to only being held nine times since the first competition in 1984.
Organizer Clyde Aikau said at a press conference on Friday that he expects waves to reach 25 to 30 feet (7.6 to nine meters) measured in Hawaii, or 50 to 60 feet (15 to 18 meters) nationally – and the conditions were met.
“We’ve mostly been looking at wave faces between 30 and 40 feet (and) the biggest waves of the day will be over 45 feet. Locally, they’ll call these 25-foot waves – and we’ve seen quite a few sets like that already,” Kevin Wallis, Director of Forecasting at Surfline.com, said over the phone Sunday morning.
“It’s amazing, it’s really cool to see it and it’s such a rare and prestigious event, and there’s definitely a lot of energy and a lot of hype,” he said.
There are big surfing events happening elsewhere in the world: Mavericks in California, Nazare in Portugal and Peahi on the Hawaiian island of Maui. But author Stuart Coleman says The Eddie stands out in how it honors Eddie Aikau, Hawaii’s legendary waterman, for his selflessness, courage and dedication.
“What makes this contest most special is that it celebrates a specific person who has truly transcended their time and where they lived,” said Coleman, who wrote “Eddie Would Go,” a biography Aikau.
This year, the organizers invited 40 competitors and 18 substitutes from all over the world, including Kelly Slater, who won a record 11 world titles in surfing. John John Florence, who hails from the North Shore and has won two back-to-back world titles, was also asked to join.
Among the women invited is Keala Kennelly from Kauai, a women’s champion in big wave surfing.