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Friday 26 February 2016 | Published in Regional


WAIMEA BAY – The world’s top big wave surfers are out in giant Waimea Bay waves honouring one of Hawai‘i’s most prestigious surfing events.

The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau event is only held when waves in Waimea Bay top 20 feet, which hasn’t happened since 2008. Waimea only gets huge swells in the winter, so organisers block out a three-month window from December to February and hope for a Pacific storm.

They got their wish this year with just days to spare.

A Pacific storm with hurricane-force winds north of Hawai‘i is churning up powerful swells with the big sets ranging from 35 to 50 feet.

Only 28 of the world’s best big-wave surfers have been invited to compete. The elite list includes names like Kelly Slater, Bruce Irons, Tom Carroll, Sunny Garcia, Shane Dorian, Ross Clarke-Jones – and Eddie Aiku’s brother, Clyde Aikau.

Eddie Aikau was a legendary big-wave surfer and the first official lifeguard on Oahu’s North Shore. He died in 1978, after volunteering to go for help when a canoe trip hit bad weather.

The memorial competition was held for the first time in 1984 and Aikau’s younger brother Clyde won the second time it was held, in 1986-87.

This week Clyde Aikau thanked the crowd before the competition and said he was thrilled with the surf conditions.

“Today has to be one of the best days I’ve seen in 40 years,” he said.

The 66-year-old paddled out yesterday to compete in his final ‘Eddie’ before retiring.

This is just the ninth time the event has been held in its storied 31-year history. The last time was in December of 2008.

In the six years since this event last ran, technology has advanced considerably in the world of big wave riding and this will be the first year that participants have the option of wearing a specially designed inflatable vest.

Rescue technology has also advanced with a full patrol of experienced high-powered wave skis, designed for rescue in big swells, driven by experienced crews.

On several occasions yesterday all wave skis had to flee for the shore after being caught inside by giant breaking waves.