The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Surfing Competition Returns


Courtesy of Surfline

Surrounded by a large audience, the Eddie invitees gather for the Awa ceremony and presentation of awards.

With famous surfers like Kelly Slater, Kai Lenny, and John John Florence headlining the 2019 Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational Invitee list, a large audience gathered at Waimea Bay for the contest’s highly-anticipated opening ceremony on the morning of December 5, 2019.

The first Eddie was held in 1985 but discontinued in 2016 due to complications with sponsorships. Last winter, The Eddie Aikau, newly sponsored predominantly by Kamehameha Schools and Hawaiian Airlines, made a grand return to the professional surfing scene. Drawing spectators and athletes alike from all over the world, it is one of the most prestigious big wave surfing contests that revolves around a unique tradition that pays homage to the fearless Hawaiian waterman, Eddie Aikau, and his legacy.

Seated 12th on the competition’s alternate list, professional surfer Ezekiel Lau says, “The history with the Eddie, keeping his legacy alive, and everything involved with the Aikau family is something that involves the Hawaiian community and the surfing community all in one. It’s a pretty rare event, especially with the mainstream surfing that goes all around the world. This event stays here.”

Laiana Kanoa-Wong, cultural practitioner and Hawaiian Professor who conducted the opening ceremony protocol, when referring to Eddie Aikau says, “We know him as the lifeguard who has 500 saves and zero losses, but we need to remember him as this person who loved our culture.”

Kanoa-Wong continues, “This is a special contest that we are trying to ground in our culture, being the kahua [foundation] of everything that we need to do here. We need to pule, we need to have our haumana [students], we need to have our leo [voice], oli [chant], and hula [dance]. We need to blow the pū [conch shell] to call people to come. This [contest] is a unique one that we [Hawaiian community] are still in control of.”

Student member of the Kamehameha Surf team, Keliko Pa says, “This is a nice event to come to because you get to skip school for a day and listen to Uncle Clyde [Aikau] talk. It’s pretty legendary.”

While this competition exhibits the highest level of big wave surfing, the rich tradition present in the history of The Eddie familiarizes the mainstream surfing world with the intricate aspects of the Hawaiian culture, and how Hawaii—along with its people, heritage, and tradition—is closely intertwined with the art of surfing.