Waimea Bay, Hawaii — Last Monday afternoon, big wave surfer Tikanui Smith from Tahitian got the call he’d been waiting for his whole life.
The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational is finally happening in less than 48 hours. This event, perhaps the most famous and mythical surfing competition in the world, is by invitation only and only when the conditions are right. The waves at Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore always have him reaching heights in excess of 20 feet. This is a 40-foot wavefront, roughly the size of a four-story building. These conditions are rare, and even rarer to last long enough to host a full-day competition.
The last time it was held was in 2016.
“When I heard the news, I stopped talking, stopped laughing, and got very serious,” Smith said.
The announcement, which arrived in an Instagram group message, sent a scramble to 40 invitees and 18 alternates. There was. The exclusive list included surfers from South Africa, Portugal, France, Chile, Brazil, California and just a few miles up the road along the Kamehameha Highway.
If Smith, 31, is to succeed, he will have to work hard. He lives in Moorea and has to take a boat to Tahiti, then a taxi to Faaa International Airport and the last flight of the day to Los Angeles to catch another plane. Honolulu. That was his 20-hour travel plan to get him there in time for the competition.
His brother and coach Jody Grosmare threw everything to join him. The two gathered a passport, his Covid-19-related documents needed, and embarked on what Smith calls “probably a once-in-a-lifetime journey.”
By the time they arrived in Los Angeles, they were bombarded with messages. The event had been canceled. The predictions changed enough for Big Wave to turn his surfing world upside down. The swell wasn’t expected to be big enough for Eddie.
Eddie’s brother, Clyde Aikau, said ahead of Waimea, “We plan to cancel Eddie on Wednesday due to strong winds early in the morning and the size of the early morning swell.” Tuesday morning, January 10th.
“We’re looking forward to it, we’re looking forward to it,” he said, along with the cancellation, knowing of the huge disappointment that hit the traveling surfers. This is predicted to be an even bigger swell with better waves.”
Big wave surfers know that nature is fickle, and even forecasting teams can’t predict the ever-evolving swells. But the emotional rush of a suddenly scheduled event, followed by the emotional crash of a cancellation, is unique to Eddie.
“It was a big roller coaster,” said Smith. “Maybe that’s what makes it all the more special.”
Like many big wave surf competitions, Eddie has a holding period that lasts several months. When weather models and buoy data detect a giant swell, big-wave surfers are informed that the contest has begun and the wave begins to race. However, most big wave contests, once decided, will go ahead, even if conditions change after they are allowed to take place.
Eddie stands out for its idiosyncrasies, described in its slogan: If the wind is too strong, the waves are too small or the waves are unstable, the contest will not take place, even if all the world’s best surfers have arrived and the beaches are packed with spectators.2016 On February 10th, the contest was canceled the morning of the event due to changing swells. After weeks of monster swells arriving and waves surpassing 60 feet, it was finally held.
The event has been held since 1984 in honor of Hawaiian surfer Eddie Aikau, the first lifeguard on Oahu’s North Shore, home to some of the world’s most famous and dangerous beaches. Aikau saved over 500 people as a lifeguard and became known as a surfer who braved giant waves that no one else ever attempted.
Aikau was already larger than life when he joined the crew of a voyage canoe following the ancient Polynesian migratory route between Hawaii and Tahiti in 1978. Within hours of setting sail, the ship Hōkūleʻa capsized. After waiting hours for help, Aikau took his surfboard and paddled to Hawaii’s Lanai for help. The rest of the crew were rescued by the United States Coast Guard hours later, and Aikau was never seen again.
The Eddy Surf Contest was founded six years later and has only run nine times since then. Whether the convention is held or not, being included and invited to the opening ceremony is a sign of respect and recognition from the Aikau family.
Isabel Leonhard, a big-wave surfer from Colima, Mexico, said being invited to the competition was “the biggest honor in the world.” She was one of many surfers who visited Oahu for her Dec. 9 opening ceremony of the 2022-23 contest.
“In Hawaii we represent the history of big waves and the history of surfers like Eddie trying to conquer those waves,” said 39-year-old Leonhardt. “His way of life and what he has done for others makes this event all the more special because it allows us to give purpose to surfing.”
Smith also attended the opening ceremony, just as she was invited to for the first time in 2019. He was smirking as he greeted other big wave his surfers and hugged Clyde his Aikau with a ray around his neck. Attendees receive traditional blessings and sail out to Waimea Bay for the ceremony.
“The first time I paddled, I cried,” Smith said, pointing to the goosebumps on his arm. “Maybe because I’m Tahitian and we’re Polynesian too. To me, it means more than a surfing competition. When I paddle out, I feel like Eddie’s approaching me.”
In the early hours of January 11, when the invitees expected to wait for the heat, many were still paddled out to meet the monster swell rolling down the North Shore. Crowds met them on the beach.When the event was first announced, many locals were sick and out of work.They cheered as surfers fell into the powerful waves. I got
There was Koa Rothman researching a set of crashing waves, and Eli Olson who came in after “riding some fun waves.” Landon McNamara paddled out on a board with an ‘Eddie Will Go’ bumper sticker. Bianca Valenti was dazzled by “reuniting with the waves.” This is a wave that only breaks like this once or twice in the winter of a good year.
And Smith and Grosmere were delighted to see the massive set roll into the bay. When the event was cancelled, they both decided to board the next flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu.
The same instincts brought Leonhardt to the Bay, even though she was an alternate on the female invitee list. I went back and forth between taxis and planes.
I was timing each entry to a dangerous shore break. And, one by one, they returned to the sand, trembling with the excitement they had when they first came here.
After all, the Gulf did not call the day. But the swell was still coming, so they came too.