HONOLULU (AP) – One of the world’s most prestigious and storied surfing contests – dubbed the “Super Bowl of Surfing” – went forward on Sunday in Hawaii for the first time in seven years with towering wave faces and a gigantic swell that was expected to grow throughout the day.
And this year female surfers competed alongside the men for the first time in the 39-year history of The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational.
The event – alternatively known simply as The Eddie – is a one-day contest held in Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore only when the surf is consistently large enough during the winter big-wave surfing season from mid-December through mid-March.
The wind, the tides and the direction of the swell also have to be just right.
“Large enough” means 20 feet by Hawaii measurements. That’s equivalent to about 40 feet when measured by methods used in the rest of the United States (US). Before this year, conditions have only aligned for it to be held nine times since the initial competition in 1984.
Organiser Clyde Aikau said at a news conference on Friday that he was expecting waves to reach 25 to 30 feet by Hawaii measurements or 50 to 60 feet on the national scale – and the conditions were meeting expectations.
On Sunday, the sets were already big, with the swell expected to grow as the day went on, and an estimated 60,000 people packed the beaches and surrounding area to catch a glimpse of the spectacle.
One huge wave swept onto the beach and hit a family, sweeping a baby under a house, but the child was not injured, Hawaii News Now reported.
“We’ve been looking at 30-foot to 40-foot wave faces for the most part, (and) the biggest waves of the day are going to be in excess of 45 feet. By local scale, they’ll call those waves 25 feet – and we’ve seen a couple sets like that already,” Director of forecasting at Surfline.com Kevin Wallis said by phone on Sunday.
“It’s amazing, it’s really cool to see and it’s such a rare and prestigious event, and there’s a lot of energy and a lot of buzz around, for sure,” he said.
Other places around the world have big wave surfing events: Mavericks in California, Nazare in Portugal and Peahi on Hawaii’s Maui Island. But author Stuart Coleman said The Eddie is distinguished by how it honours Eddie Aikau, a legendary Native Hawaiian waterman, for his selflessness, courage and sacrifice.
“What makes this contest the most unique is that it’s in memory of a particular individual who really has transcended his time and place when he lived,” said Coleman, who wrote Eddie Would Go, a biography of Aikau.