by Caleb Jones, The Associated Press, February 10, 2016
HALEIWA, Hawaii (AP) — "Eddie would go." That's the mantra of the Quicksilver big wave surf competition in memory of Eddie Aikau, a Native Hawaiian surf legend who became famous for riding monster waves and saving hundreds of lives as Waimea Bay's first official lifeguard.
For the first time in six years, the surf conditions on the North Shore of Oahu are expected to meet the organizers' strict minimum requirements on Wednesday, with waves of around 40-feet tall.
Organizers and competitors alike wait and watch each year, inspecting the ocean for the perfect conditions to arrive before announcing the competition will go on. This year, they announced on Monday that Wednesday's conditions are expected to meet the event standards and provide hours of worthy big waves.
The Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau event began in 1984, but there have only been eight times the conditions have allowed surfers to actually compete.
According to the National Weather Service in Honolulu, the swell that is approaching the islands this week is being fueled in part by the ongoing El Nino conditions in the region. Though Hawaii gets large swells every winter, El Nino is giving the jet stream extra energy to produce more big swells than normal.
"It has taken us six years to pull the trigger, but this is the first swell we have seen that is truly lining up as an Eddie swell," said the event's director, Glen Moncata, in a statement Monday.
According to organizers, however, the event is about much more than just surfing.
Event spokeswoman and longtime friend of the Aikau family Jodi Wilmott told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday that while there is a prize for the winner of the competition, the surfers involved are really there to honor the legacy and generous spirit of Eddie.
"The surfers invited to this event absolutely understand the prestige of being invited," Wilcott said. "It's about coming together to honor the most famous big-wave rider there has ever been and to do that basically at the Mecca of surfing."
As a North Shore lifeguard, Aikau is credited with saving hundreds of lives from the dangerous ocean surf of Oahu's North Shore, and he is said to have never had a fatality while on duty.
He was a guardian of the bay and any other body of water he visited, Wilcott said, and fittingly so as he was a direct descendant of a Hawaiian high priest named Hewahewa, who was given the task of watching over the Waimea Valley long before Eddie arrived.
"He really did share aloha wherever he went," Wilcott said. "He loved to share his own spirit of what being a Hawaiian was. He played music freely and told stories of Hawaii wherever he travelled."
Wilcott said that Aikau would watch from shore as the waves grew larger in Waimea Bay, making sure everyone was safe. Then, when the surf got to be too big for most and the crowds would leave the ocean, Aikau would grab his surfboard and take on the biggest waves around.
"His spirit was very caring, very accommodating, very peaceful, and when he would ride it was just a sight to behold," she said.
Ultimately, however, Aikau gave his life to the ocean in a final attempt to save others. Part of a team that was attempting to trace the route of their Polynesian ancestors from Hawaii to Tahiti aboard the traditional Hokulea canoe in 1978, the 31-year-old Eddie made a final sacrifice.
The vessel encountered very rough seas in the open waters off Hawaii, began to take on water and eventually capsized. Despite the concerns of his crew, Aikau took his surfboard and paddled away for help. The rest of the crew stayed with the boat as Aikau attempted the long trip back to the Hawaiian Islands. He was never seen again, though the rest of the crew was eventually rescued.
Some of the best big-wave surfers in the world are at Waimea Bay to compete in the event, including Eddie's brother Clyde Aikau, who is the oldest competitor at 66 years old and the only surfer to attend all of the competitions. Surfing is expected to last most of the day.
Another big-wave competition, Mavericks, is expected to be held on Friday in Half Moon Bay, California.
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This article was written by Caleb Jones from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.