Row 1: JOHN JOHN FLORENCE; Row 2: MAKUAKAI ROTHMAN, left, MAKUAKAI WITH CLYDE AIKAU, right; Row 3: LUKE SHEPARDSON’S WINNING WAVE
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANNE MENKE
The surf expression “Eddie Would Go” references the legend of Hawaiian surfer, lifeguard, and waterman Eddie Aikau, who in the 1970’s was considered one of the greatest big wave riders in the world. Eddie was the first official lifeguard at Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore, famous for its massive surf, and he was known for fearless rescues in treacherous conditions that no one else would dare.
Eddie’s life took on mythic proportions when it was tragically cut short during the 1978 “Hokule’a” 2500-mile sea voyage, retracing the ancient route of the Polynesian migration from the Tahitian islands to Hawaiian islands in a traditional double hulled canoe. When the Hokule’a capsized in stormy weather, Eddie set out on his surfboard to get help. Though the crew was later rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard, despite great search efforts Eddie was never seen again. He was just 31.
Row 1: KOA ROTHMAN; Row 2: JAKE MAKI; Row 3: EMILY ERICKSON
The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational is held in his honor and considered the marquis event in the sport of surfing. There is a two-week holding period, and the one day event at Waimea Bay is only contested when conditions are considered worthy of Eddie’s legacy – waves must be at least 30 feet.
The “Eddie” as it’s now commonly known, was established in 1984 and won by his brother Clyde Aikau in its first year. The phrase “Eddie Would Go” originated during that first contest. With conditions that were extremely dangerous, contest organizers were discussing whether to put it on the event. Competitor Mark Foo looked out and said, “Eddie would go.”
Row 1: CLYDE AIKAU; Row 2: MARK HEALY; Row 3: KEALA KENNELLY
The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational celebrates the current lineage of big wave surfers, as well the ones that have come before. The legend of Eddie Aikau is one of great significance in Hawaiian culture, and the event has only been held 10 times in its history. 2016 was the last time until this year’s Eddie Big Wave Invitational, when conditions prevailed on January 22, 2023.
The biggest names in big wave surfing were in attendance, including women who were invited for the first time this year: John John Florence, who won in 2016, Mark Healy, Ian Walsh, Kai Lenny, Justine Parsons, Peter Mel, Shane Dorian, and Keala Kennelly, just to name a few.
Row 1: GRANT BAKER, IAN WALSH, JAMIE MITCHELL (PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN BIELMANN), left, JOHN JOHN FLORENCE, right; Row 2: EMILY ERICKSON; Row3: KAI LENNY, left, BILLY KEMPNER, right; Row 4: LUKE SHEPARDSON AT AWARD CERERMONY
But so fittingly, in the spirit of the surfer for whom the contest honors, it was a local Waimea Bay lifeguard on duty that day, Luke Shepardson, a relative unknown in the sport, who paddled out on a break from work… and won the contest. The 27-year-old accepted the award wearing his yellow lifeguard t-shirt and red board shorts, saying it was a dream come true simply to participate in the competition on Sunday.
And on an epic day at Waimea, when his rescue services were still needed, Luke went back to work that afternoon.
Row 1: WINNER LUKE SHEPARDSON; Row 2: ELI OLSON; Row 3: NATHAN FLETCHER