EDDIE AIKAU BIG WAVE
TONY BLAZEJACK / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Bruce Irons of Kauai recorded the only perfect score yesterday at the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational at Waimea Bay. The wave approached 50 feet when it began to crest.
‘Other’ Irons goes
big to capture
The champion’s brother wins
‘the Eddie’ on first try
Christmas came early for 24 of the world's best big-wave surfers yesterday.
The very large present for all of them to share was a huge winter swell that generated surf big enough to run the prestigious Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational at Waimea Bay for only the seventh time in 20 years.
Kauai's Bruce Irons, younger brother of current three-time world champion Andy Irons, got to enjoy the rare gift most of all, as he won "the Eddie" in his first time participating in the event.
"Today doesn't seem real," said 25-year-old Bruce, who earned $55,000 with the victory. "I caught the biggest waves of my life. To win the Eddie Aikau -- I can't believe it."
The first Eddie experience "was everything I expected and more," he added. "The vibe ... there's so much energy, it's such a heavy feeling. ... I'll go to my grave happy that I won the Eddie Aikau."
Several thousand spectators lined the beach and both cliff sides of the bay to watch the surfers paddle into quality waves that were averaging 30 to 50 feet in face value in the morning.
Good conditions lasted throughout the day, and though the swell had already peaked by late afternoon, sets still averaged 25 to 40 feet for the final heats.
A celebration of the life of former Waimea Bay lifeguard and surfer Eddie Aikau, who was never found after he paddled off for help when the Hokulea capsized in rough seas in 1978, this is an invite-only event that runs only when quality surf at the bay measures at least 20 feet under the local scale (30- to 40-foot faces).
The waiting period for the event began just two weeks ago, and would have run until the end of February. Typically, when the Eddie has taken place in the past, it has done so after Christmas.
The previous time it was held was in January 2002, when six-time former world champion Kelly Slater of Florida was the winner.
"This is our early Christmas present from Santa Claus," said Glen Moncata, the Quiksilver Hawaii representative.
Bruce Irons caught some of the biggest waves of the day, and his top four rides from two separate one-hour non-elimination heats scored 370 points (out of 400 maximum), 32 better than 2001 Eddie winner Ross Clarke-Jones (338) of Australia, who finished in second place.
"I would be lying if I said there wasn't any disappointment" finishing runner-up, said the 38-year-old Clarke-Jones. "But Bruce caught some of the best waves I saw today, and really deserved it."
Participating in his fourth Eddie, the first coming in 1999, Clarke-Jones added: "This was the best one yet. Wave-wise, spirit-wise -- it's just a nice feeling all the way around."
Irons' best ride came during his first heat, on a wave that approached 50 feet when it began to crest. After making the five-story drop, he managed to turn beyond the massive wall of whitewater chasing after him, and then worked the wave all the way inside, where he posed for the crowd before entering a thick closeout barrel on his backhand.
Irons received a perfect score of 100 for the wave, the highest individual-wave score of the day.
"I made the reform and I figured, 'I made it this far, I might as well make the crowd happy," Irons said of the ride.
Finishing in third place was the Big Island's Shane Dorian, with 331 total points. Andy Irons (329) finished fourth, and California's Peter Mel (327) fifth. Slater (291) rounded out the top six spots.
Despite the heavy surf and several nasty, free-falling wipeouts, only one of the surfers -- California's Darryl "Flea" Virostko -- suffered an injury (leg) that forced him from the competition.
Also participating in the event were Aikau's younger brother, Clyde, and nephew, Zane, and Hawaii surfer Makua Rothman.
The winner of the Eddie back in 1986, 55-year-old Clyde Aikau (249) was the oldest competitor, yet surfed well and finished 13th.
"The waves (were) great, pretty smooth," he said. "We (competitors) gave each other waves, and it was really fun out there."
Participating for the first time, Zane Aikau (149) finished 23rd.
At 20, Rothman (214) was the youngest in the field. He finished 18th.