Eddie Aikau surf contest is on to the delight of thousands


POSTED: Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational surfing contest is on today, for the first time in five years.

The first heat started after 8:00 a.m.

“;The Eddie is going,”; said contest organizer George Downing.

After assessing wave conditions, he announced the start of the event at 7:30 a.m. to a cheering crowd estimated in the thousands, many of whom camped overnight in anticipation of the event.

“;I've never seen this many people, a tremendous amount of people,”; said Downing. 

The Waimea Bay contest is only held when waves are consistently large. The National Weather Service says the waves are in the 40-foot range with 50-foot sets on outer reefs today.

Twenty-eight big-wave surfers were invited to participate in the contest to compete for the $98,000 purse prize. The last time the event was held was December 2004.

Yesterday, the contest was called off due to the north winds, but in the warm-up, where waves peaked at 40 feet, former world champion Tom Carroll suffered an ankle injury, forcing him out of the contest, according to the Quiksilver Web site. Carroll was replaced by Pancho Sullivan. Other surfing pros who are competing include Sunny Garcia, Andy Irons, and Kelly Slater.

This is the 25th anniversary of the event. The first was held at Sunset Beach in 1985. The following year, the event was held at Waimea Bay and remained the permanent site.

A small crowd, primarily the surfing community, watched the big wave surfers compete in the first event. As the popularity of the contest grew with media attention and swift communication via cell phones and the Internet, the event now draws thousands. 

Many attendees this morning were bundled up with sweaters and blankets due to the chilly conditions as they waited for the announcement. Long lens cameras peppered the beach.

 Kahaluu resident Ernie Foster said he got up at 4 a.m. to catch the bus to Waimea Bay to watch the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Invitational surfing contest. Foster said he caught the bus to avoid looking for parking. Many walked at least a mile after parking on side streets and along Kamehameha Highway.

Foster, who has watched all the Eddie Aikau Invitationals since its inception, said he knew there would be a crowd when he arrived, but did not anticipate the large crowd already at Waimea Bay when he arrived.

Surfer Shane Dorian, one of the competitors, said, “;People who are here on vacation, all the locals that very rarely ever see it ... It's just neat to see everybody down here, excited.”;

The contest is named after Aikau, the beloved surfer and lifeguard who in 1978 swam away from the capsized Hokulea to get help and was never seen again. The voyaging canoe was traveling from Hawaii to Tahiti when it got into trouble in a storm.