History was made yesterday at the ‘Oscars of big wave surfing’ on Oahu’s North Shore, The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. Packed crowds made the pilgrimage through the dead of the night to stake a coveted place and watch the show unfold, with wild scenes captured by infamous wave-worshiper and photographer, Clark Little, illustrating just what a hot ticket a front-row seat to the action was.
With the last Eddie taking place all the way back in 2016, and the trophy taken by John John Florence, anticipation was running high for the one day contest. With the surf big enough for the event to run (a colossal 40 feet or thereabouts in Hawaiian measurements), conditions have only been sweet enough and prevailed on 9 previous occasions.
Hawaii feels like it’s been the epicentre of surfing the last month. From the Vans Pipe Masters back in December, another historic event where women finally deservedly staked their place in the competition line up, to shocking scenes unfolding only last week at the Da Hui Backdoor Shootout held in memory of iconic surfer and Hawaiian legend, Duke Kahanamoku. Huge conditions played witness to the first ever women’s Pipe Masters champion, Moana Jones Wong, go full-send on what many are calling one of the best waves ever surfed by a woman, period, as well as non-stop action and epic rides from the best of the rest including Kelly Slater.
Pipe claimed its fair share of scalps too, with big wave jedi, Billy Kemper, carted off to hospital as Moana took her wave, Makua Rothman blowing out his knee, and a nail biting rescue of Hawaiian charger, Kala Grace, unfolding live on screens. Thankfully, the wild rescue by Hawaiian Water Patrol, Noland Kealuana, who ditched his jet ski and dove into the churning waters to save Kala, meant the young ripper had a close call, but has since been in recovery after a stint in ICU. After a respectful delay whilst the status’ of Billy and Kala were awaited, the individual prize was awarded to Benji Brand, with an on-fire Nathan Florence in second, also nursing an injury from a few days earlier a mammoth set at Jaws claimed a lumbar compression – Ouch!
This circles us back to yesterday’s Eddie that saw a growing morning swell attracting 60,000 people pitched up for the action. This included a who’s-who of surfing icons, with talent such as Steph Gilmore, playing witness to the historic and emotional moment whereby women would paddle out for the first time ever with the men. Local lifeguards were even kept busy by the crowds, unheeding their advice and facing sweeping waves up the beach washing away possessions and limbs.
Keala Kennelly made history when she was the first woman to ever be invited to the Eddie some years back, and yesterday, along with fellow legends Andrea Moller, Emi Erickson, Justine duPont, Paige Alms and Makani Adric, iconic women of the waves took their rightful place in the lineup to ringing cheers from the crowd.
The Eddie is an event steeped in history and heritage, a celebration of the life of the first ever lifeguard hired by the city of Honolulu to work on the North Shore, Edward Ryon Makuahanai Aikau. Eddie went on to save some whopping 500 people during his career. Aikau died when sailing a traditional Polynesian canoe with a crew in 1978, selflessly paddling out into the storm to seek help and save his mates and tragically never seen again. The event, spearheaded by the Aikau’s with competitors receiving personal invites from the family, celebrates big-wave surfing and Hawaiian culture.
It seems yesterday’s competitors had heeded the “Eddie Would Go” mantra, with innumerable stand out rides, epic wipeouts and plenty of drama. With a format of 2 rounds of 8 person heats, each surfer’s top 4 rides went towards a total wave score. A stacked roster of big-wave legends saw previous champions Ross Clarke-Jones, fellow OGS Michael Ho, Shane Dorian and Peter Mel, take to the water alongside infamous chargers Kai Lenny, Ian Walsh and Nathan Fletcher. The GOAT-like legends who comprised the women’s invitees put on a serious show for the avid crowds.
Proving his body must be crafted from kevlar, Billy Kemper, a few extra stitches in place, had recovered well enough to drop into some bombs, claiming 4th place overall.
Former champ, John John Florence, demonstrated why he is inarguably a cemented Royal of The North Shore, his smooth rides claiming second place, with Mark Healey taking third. The women charged into some of the biggest waves of the day, with Kauai’s Keala Kennelly laying down some smooth rides before dropping into an eye-watering bomb that she didn’t squeak out of.
But, in Cinderella story-esque scenes, on-duty Honolulu lifeguard, Luke Shepardson, who’d seemingly had his Weetabix that morning, impressed from the start, eventually scoring 89/90 points available. Clearly emotional and once safely back onshore, Luke was welcomed back like the local hero he is, tears in eyes as he accepted his prize.
Wrapping up the 10th Eddie, all eyes are still on Hawaii as The Triple Crown Of Surfing unfolds…
- 1st – Luke Shepardson
- 2nd – John Florence
- 3rd – Mark Healey
- 4th – Billy Kemper
- 5th – Kai Lenny
- 6th – Zeke Lau
- 7th – Landon Mcnamara
- 8th – Keali’i Mamala
2023 Competitor List:
John John Florence
Nic von Rupp