Hawaii Surf Contest The Eddie returns with women competing alongside men for the first time

Hawaii Surf Contest The Eddie returns with women competing alongside men for the first time

HONOLULU — One of the most prestigious and storied surfing competitions in the world is expected to take place in Hawaii on Sunday for the first time in seven years.

And this year, for the first time in the 39-year history of the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, women surfers will compete alongside men.

The event — alternatively known simply as The Eddie — is a one-day competition held at Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore only when the surf is consistently big enough during the winter big wave surfing season from mid-December to mid-March is. The wind, the tides and the direction of the waves also have to be right.

“Large enough” means 20 feet by Hawaiian measurements. That’s about 40 feet, measured using methods used in the rest of the United States. Prior to this year, the terms have only adjusted for it to be held nine times since the first competition in 1984.

Organizer Clyde Aikau said at a news conference Friday he expects waves of 25 to 30 feet by Hawaiian measurements, or 50 to 60 feet nationally.

“Yes, The Eddie will go on Sunday,” he said.

Other locations around the world have big wave surfing events: Mavericks in California, Nazaré in Portugal and Peʻahi on Hawaii’s island of Maui. But according to author Stuart Coleman, The Eddie is distinctive because it honors Eddie Aikau, a legendary Native Hawaiian Aquarius, for his selflessness, courage and sacrifice.

“What makes this contest so unique is that it commemorates a certain person who really transcended their time and place in which they lived,” said Coleman, who wrote Eddie Would Go, a biography of Aikau has.

Edward Ryon Makuahanai Aikau became known as the first lifeguard hired by Honolulu to work on Oahu’s North Shore and was revered for rescuing over 500 people during his career. He is also famous for surfing high waves that no one else would dare to ride.

Aikau died in 1978 at the age of 31 during an expedition to sail from Honolulu to Tahiti in a traditional Polynesian touring canoe. Just hours out of port, the huge double-hulled canoe known as the Hokulea took on water and capsized in stormy weather. Aikau volunteered to paddle his surfboard several miles to the nearby island of Lanai for help for the rest of the crew, but was never seen again.

The US Coast Guard rescued the remaining crew a few hours later after being alerted by an airliner spotting the canoe.

Coleman said The Eddie is the best in big wave surfing and the best in Hawaiian culture.

“They always say at the opening ceremony, where they gather to initiate the hold period, ‘This isn’t just a competition. We don’t surf against each other. We’re surfing in the spirit of Eddie,” Coleman said.

This year, the organizers invited 40 participants and 18 alternates from around the world, including Kelly Slater, who has won a record 11 world surfing titles. John John Florence, who hails from the North Shore and has won back-to-back world titles, has also been asked to join.

Keala Kennelly from Kauai, a women’s big wave surfing champion, is among the female invitees.

Mindy Pennybacker, surf columnist for Honolulu Star-Advertiser and author of the upcoming book Surfing Sisterhood Hawaii: Wahine Reclaiming the Waves, said there has long been a perception that Waimea is too dangerous for women to surf there .

She said they struggled to get in and have now shown they can handle big waves at spots around the world.

“To see women — not just women surfing Waimea, but women and men sharing the same event together with mutual respect and equality — I’m just thrilled at the thought,” said Pennybacker.

The competition is expected to draw tens of thousands of spectators onto the dual carriageway, which meanders through the North Shore and small towns scattered across the coastal community.

North Shore Neighborhood Board Chair Kathleen Pahinui said it will be good for businesses, restaurants and shops. She urged visitors to carpool and take the bus as roads will be congested.

“I wish all participants the best of luck,” she said.

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