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The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational pays tribute to a Hawaii legend


Known as the “Super Bowl of surfing,” the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational was held for the first time since 2016 in Hawaii over the weekend, as organizers said an estimated 50,000 people were packed on the beach to watch. This also marked just the 10th time the event has ever been held due to the tournament’s rules which require open-ocean swells to reach a minimum height of 20 feet before it can commence.

However, those waves would actually be considered twice as large anywhere else in the United States because of how Hawaii measures waves, meaning waves needed to the hold the Eddie must be at least 40 feet tall on a normal scale.

The Eddie was founded in 1987 to honor the memory of its namesake, a local lifeguard who was revered for saving over 500 people during his career. Known for his impressive surfing prowess, Aikau lost his life in 1978 after canoeing into stormy weather with the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

The group was attempting to retrace an ancient seafaring path that spanned thousands of miles when disaster struck and the vessel capsized far from shore. Aikau then volunteered to paddle out and get help for the others who had been stranded on the boat with him, but was never seen again.

“To do the ultimate sacrifice to save others, is what Eddie’s legacy is all about” said Aikau’s brother, Clyde Aikau.

So it’s fitting that another local lifeguard emerged victorious in this year’s tournament. Luke Shepardson took approved breaks from his lifeguarding duty at Waimea Bay so he could compete in the event and put up a near perfect score to defeat defending champion John John Florence. Shepardson won $10,000 for taking first place with scores of 30.0, 30.0 and 29.1 across his three best waves, just shy of the 90-point maximum.

“I’m super humbled and super honored and try to live up to the legacy of all the guys before me. To surf in the Eddie Aikau and perpetuate his legacy as a lifeguard and riding big waves and being in the ocean, being a waterman, it’s what I live for,” Shephardson said. “I don’t think I’ll ever come close to what he did but I’ll try my hardest.”

Other competitors also made waves during the Eddie, as the tournament featured women for the first time ever. Brazilian surfer Andrea Moller made history as the first woman to catch a wave during the event, as she was one of six women to participate in the field of 40 surfers on Sunday.

“Goosebumps just to be the first woman to surf a wave out there,” Moller said. “I think it just really brings back all the efforts that us women surfers put out there. To be recognized, to prove that it’s possible that we’re athletes, we want to do this. We have the passion for big wave surfing just like the guys do.”

Though there are no guarantees for when the world will see this competition again, but it’s evident that the memory of Eddie Aikau remains alive in Hawaii.