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The Eddie or Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational is one of the most prestigious big wave surfing contests in the world, held in Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii only when waves reach heights over 20 feet.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The Eddie is an invite-only big wave surfing competition named after legendary Hawaiian surfer and lifeguard Eddie Aikau. It is held at Waimea Bay when winter swells produce waves over 20 feet high.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about the Eddie big wave contest – from its history and origins, the location, what makes it so challenging, why it doesn’t run every year, how surfers train and prepare for it, what it takes to be invited, and what happens during the event.

We’ll also highlight some of the standout moments and winners over the years.

Origin and History of the Eddie Big Wave Contest

The story of Eddie Aikau and how the contest got its name

The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational contest is named after the legendary Hawaiian lifeguard and surfer Eddie Aikau. In 1978, Eddie was serving as a crew member on the voyaging canoe Hokule’a when it capsized in a storm.

As the most experienced surfer on board, Eddie selflessly decided to paddle his surfboard the miles to nearby Lanai island to get help for the crew. Tragically, Eddie was never seen again. His brave sacrifice embodied the spirit of aloha and surfers helping surfers that is the hallmark of the big wave surf community in Hawaii.

Shortly after in 1985, the super bowl of surfing at Waimea Bay on Hawaii’s North Shore decided to name their contest after Eddie as a tribute to his legacy.

When the first Eddie contest was held

The first Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau was held at Waimea Bay on December 4, 1985. While the organizers hoped the contest would become an annual event, the fickle nature of ocean swells bringing massive waves to Hawaii’s north shore has prevented that.

As a contest rule, the minim wave height requirement is 20 feet before the green light is given to start the Eddie. So in reality, the Eddie big wave contest has only been held in 9 times over the past 37 years!

Year Wave Face Height (ft)
1985 25-30
1986 15-20
1987 Canceled
2016 25-30

As the table shows, the Eddie has only run about once every 4 years on average when the Pacific storms produce sufficiently large enough swells to meet the minimum criteria. This rarity adds to the legend and prestige around the event.

Top professional surfers train year round to be invited to compete, as for some it represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Infrequent nature of the event over the years

As mentioned, the key challenge around holding the Eddie Big Wave Invitational is mother nature’s whims. Contest officials rigorously monitor incoming winter swells across the Pacific, looking for well-formed swell trains producing surf in the 30+ foot Hawaiian scale.

Per the Surfline forecast criteria, once a swell hits this threshold the Eddie Contest Director makes the call to run the event with 48 hours notice to competitors and support crews.

So in reality, would-be Eddie challengers effectively have to put their lives on hold for months during Hawaii’s big wave season. Traveling back and forth to Hawaii awaiting the elusive call to surf some of the largest rideable waves on earth.

And even when the call comes and the event runs, the contest changing conditions and fickle luck of drawing the best waves to perform on plays a huge role. In short, winning the Eddie requires tremendous passion, skill, patience, and a bit of luck!

Where and Why It’s Held at Waimea Bay

Description of Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore

Waimea Bay is a gorgeous sandy beach on Oahu’s legendary North Shore. It lies in the shadow of the stunning Waimea Valley and is flanked by epic cliffs. The bay stretches around 700 yards between Sunset Point on the eastern tip to Rabbit Island on the west.

The sandy beach changes shape and size seasonally, shrinking in the winter months when massive swells roll in.

What makes it an ideal big wave surf spot

There are several key features that make Waimea Bay an iconic and challenging big wave surfing spot. Firstly, the underwater topography amplifies swells that enter the bay, pushing wave faces upward and increasing their size exponentially. Parts of the sea floor are also smooth basalt rock ledges.

This shape causes waves to jack up instead of closing out as they approach the shoreline.

The geography of the bay also concentrates the swells into defined peaks, rather than a scattered closeout. Variations in the underwater landscape produce several famous takeoff zones like “The Bowl”, which consistently offer epic rides.

The bay’s sandy beach allows riders to get extremely deep and close to the cliffs at “Sunset Point” before kicking out.

Wave heights and conditions needed to run the Eddie event

In order to run, “The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational” requires a minimum of consistent 20 foot wave faces (with 30+ foot faces on the sets). The event’s criteria also specify the need for perfect weather conditions with light off-shore winds that shape the peaks but don’t destroy them.

When these demanding conditions align, Waimea Bay explodes into one of the heaviest big wave surf spots on the planet.

Since holding the first event in 1984, the contest has only run nine times in total. Two decades even passed between the 2000-2001 season and the next event held in December 2016. This rarity adds a mythical status to the competition named after legendary North Shore lifeguard and surfer Eddie Aikau who was renowned for paddling way off-shore to rescue over 500 people during his life.

What Makes the Eddie So Challenging

The extreme wave faces and dangers

The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational held at Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii is considered one of the most dangerous and challenging big wave surfing events in the world. What makes the waves at “The Eddie” so intense?

The reef at Waimea Bay creates massive, unpredictable waves that can reach over 30 feet high when the conditions are right. These waves have faces as tall as apartment buildings and move at speeds up to 35 mph.

Riding one of these giants is extremely dangerous, as wipeouts can plunge surfers deep underwater and slam them into the reef.

Some of the specific dangers include:

  • Broken bones – Wipeouts have caused broken necks, backs, shoulders and more.
  • Concussions – Surfers often slam their heads on their boards or the water surface at high speeds.
  • Drowning – Getting caught in the impact zone or washing through the rocky reef makes it very difficult to get back to the surface for air in time. Breath hold training is essential.

Preparing physically and mentally for the event

Those who dare to take on the Eddie work for years honing their physical fitness, surf skills, and mental focus to handle these extreme conditions. Strength training, cardio conditioning, big wave practice, and lung capacity work are daily routines.

Surfers also visualize riding these giants and prepare contingency plans if things go wrong. Staying calm under pressure can save their life.

The invitees train both their bodies and minds to survive the most critical situations. For example, Kai Lenny, a standout prone surfer, practices breath-hold times of over 5 minutes in case he gets pummeled and dragged deep underwater.

Other surfers like Billy Kemper perfect the skills to punch through the wave if it starts to collapse and then rapidly inflate emergency floatation devices.

Highlight past injuries

Though a pinnacle achievement, surfing the Eddie has resulted in many injuries over the years. In 2016, waves reached a towering 50-60 feet. Carlos Burle of Brazil took a massive spill that snapped his shoulder out of its socket.

Several other surfers endured bone-crushing wipeouts that contest season. Back in 2007, showcase surfer Bruce Irons likely fractured his ribs after getting mowed down by a 30-foot face.

While broken bones heal, some Eddie daredevils have suffered permanent damage. After enduring one of the worst wipeouts seen in decades back in 2015, Mark Healey had to get over 90 stitches in his face and underwent facial reconstruction for shattered eye sockets.

And of course, iconic surfer Eddie Aikau – the namesake of the event – vanished and perished among 30-foot surf after his canoe capsized off Molokai’s coast in 1967.

How Surfers Train and Prepare for the Eddie

Getting comfortable in big wave conditions

Surfing waves over 30 feet tall during The Eddie competition in Hawaii requires immense skill, courage, and preparation. To get comfortable in such extreme conditions, competitors spend years training in sizeable but slightly smaller waves to build confidence andtechnique.

Many practice at places like Mavericks in California, Dungeons in South Africa, and Puerto Escondido in Mexico where 20-25 foot waves are more common.

They start by observing and studying how the waves break. Then they paddle out with experienced big wave surfers to learn the best takeoff positions and optimal timing to catch and ride these liquid mountains. Taking nasty wipeouts is inevitable so they work up slowly in wave face heights and size.

Through repeated practice paddling hard to catch waves and negotiating turbulent waters, surfers develop the fitness, breath control, and ocean awareness needed to surf giants.

Building endurance, technique and managing fear

Riding 50-60 foot tall waves during The Eddie for over 30 minutes demands tremendous endurance, technique, and courage. To prepare, competitors follow extensive workout programs on land and in the ocean.

A strong paddling foundation is crucial so surfers will paddle for hours in the pool, work with paddling coaches, and do high-intensity intervals to build aerobic capacity and upper body strength.

To handle the and force of giant walls of water, dynamic power through the legs, core and shoulders is vital. Pull-ups, squats, Olympic lifts and CrossFit style training build the necessary strength and power.

On the wave, they practice staying calm while dropping in on crushing mountains of water, maneuvering across fast moving faces, and surviving relentless pounding whitewater.

Managing fear is also essential. Breathing techniques, mental rehearsals of stressful scenarios, and pressure testing in smaller sized waves helps big wave surfers stay poised when riding giants. They also build confidence by reviewing video footage and imagery of themselves succeeding.

Surfers often use sports psychologists to improve focus while quieting their frightened inner voice when gunning for The Eddie.

Special workout programs and safety preparations

In the gym, Eddie competitors follow special surf training programs that mimic the specific demands of their sport. Exercises like rotational medicine ball throws, surfer rows, thrusters, and weighted paddle training helps strengthen the shoulders, back, legs and core needed to propel and balance on big waves.

Safety and rescue preparations are also paramount. Surfers practice breath holding ability, study advanced survival techniques like rescue tube use, and learn CPR. They review video of previous wipeouts to strategize how to endure pounding whitewater, escape broken boards, clear raging rips, and avoid rocky reefs if they fall.

Some big wave surfers even participate in military style safety and rescue courses to gain skills and confidence.

Average Wave Height Length of Ride
50-60 feet Over 30 minutes

Through such specialized physical preparation, ocean skills development, and safety training, surfers like those competing at The Eddie gradually build the competence, fitness and courage to challenge the biggest rideable waves on the planet.

Becoming an Eddie Invitee

The exclusive selection committee

The selection committee for the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational is comprised of veteran Hawaiian big wave surfers and organizers of the prestigious event. This tight-knit group reviews footage and metrics to determine which 24 surfers receive the coveted invite to participate when conditions at Waimea Bay reach epic proportions.

Legends like Clyde Aikau, brother of Eddie, help ensure the selection aligns with Eddie’s spirit of courage, humility and pride in Hawaiian culture. Brimming with mana (spiritual power) and wisdom, the committee members take the responsibility seriously, poring over stats to find just the right surfers.

Criteria for getting an invite

Simply being a talented pro surfer isn’t enough to get a nod for the Eddie. Surfers must have experience mastering waves over 30 feet tall. They also need to demonstrate poise, grit and a commitment not just to personal glory but to the community.

Big wave surfing stats like wave faces ridden, completion percentage and other metrics help the committee benchmark athletic prowess. Just as important is conducting oneself with aloha and being a strong ambassador of the sport.

The prestige of being selected

For passionate big wave surfers, receiving one of only 24 Golden Tickets to surf in the Eddie is an enormous honor. It means affirmation by one’s heroes and acceptance into an elite tribe. The short list has included legends like Kelly Slater, Laird Hamilton and Maya Gabeira.

Being selected injects surfers with mana and humility. They become part of Eddie’s profound legacy of spreading the aloha spirit. Win or lose, making the cut, then paddling out at Waimea during the once-a-decade swell required to hold the event, is a career-defining, life-changing milestone.

What Happens During the Eddie Event

The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational held at Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii is one of the most prestigious and revered events in the world of big wave surfing. Known simply as “The Eddie”, this contest celebrates the life and legacy of legendary Hawaiian waterman Eddie Aikau.

It only runs during the winter big wave season when wave faces reach over 20 feet, making it an extremely selective event.

The contest waiting period each winter

The waiting period for the Eddie opens on December 1st every year and runs through the end of February. During this three month window, expert forecasters closely monitor ocean conditions in the zone, looking for the right combination of swell size, direction, and wind to produce perfectly shaped waist-to-overhead waves topping out over 20 feet at Waimea Bay.

Generally the contest organizers will make a call to run the event around 48 hours prior when a suitable forecast comes into alignment.

Standouts competing each year it runs

The Eddie event features an exclusive field made up of just 9 teams of 1 surfer and 2 alternates. To receive an invite, big wave riders must prove themselves in dangerous surf at Waimea and other premier big wave breaks.

Notables who have competed in past Eddes include Kelly Slater, Laird Hamilton, Ross Clarke-Jones, Makua Rothman and more. There are also 4 wild card slots up for grabs in a separate qualifying event for up and coming talents trying to make their mark in XXL surf.

Format for the event and number of surfers

The format for the Eddie contest is unique in that it runs tag-team style with surfers alternating on waves. Each team rides 4 waves per heat, alternating between the primary surfer and 2 backups. Surfers are judged both on individual waves and overall team effort.

Judges analyze speed, power and flow for every ride and comparatively rank teams against each other in a classic bracket format. Quarter finals and semi finals happen on Day 1, with the championship finals and victory ceremony usually taking place on Day 2, wind and weather permitting of course.

Judging criteria and deciding the winner

A world class judging panel grades every ride in the Eddie on criteria like wave size, criticalness, variety of maneuvers, length of ride, and flow between turns. Each judge assigns scores for individual waves on a 1-10 scale.

The highest and lowest scores are dropped for every wave, then the remaining 3 scores are averaged to produce the official tally. At the end of each heat, the 4 wave scores for each team member are combined to produce a total team score.

The top scoring teams advance through brackets until a champion is crowned. Ultimately, Eddie judges look to reward surfers who seek out and tame the very largest, most critical waves, putting themselves completely on the line in death-defying conditions.

Year Run Winner Winning Ride Score
1984 Clyde Aikau 8.33 (out of 10)
1985 Mark Foo 9.5 (out of 10)
1986 No Contest N/A
1987-2016 No Contest N/A
2016-2017 John John Florence 98.00 (out of 100)

As seen in the table above recapping past Eddie event winners, the contest has only officially run 9 times since its inception in 1984, with 7 of those years resulting in “no contest” due to unsuitable conditions.

This perfectly encapsulates both the elusiveness and prestige associated with triumph at The Eddie.

Most Memorable Eddie Moments

Epic waves and performances over the years

The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational at Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii is known for showcasing some of the biggest, best waves and incredible surfing performances. Since its inception in 1984 in honor of legendary Hawaiian waterman Eddie Aikau, there have been several standout moments that have gone down in surf history.

In 1986, Hawaii’s own Mark Foo scored an epic barrel ride on a massive 25-foot wave, wowing the crowds and judges. In 1989, California surfer Mike Parsons managed an incredible 66-minute ride on a heart-stopping 30-foot beast of a wave.

His unbelievable wave riding skills and endurance earned him the win that year.

The millennium brought even wilder waves and death-defying rides. In 2001, tow-in surfing allowed big wave legends like Kelly Slater and Ross Clarke-Jones to be towed into and ride waves over 50 feet tall.

Over the years, advancements in surfing equipment and technology have enabled surfers to take on ever more gigantic waves at the Eddie contest.

Highlight famous winners and rides

The Eddie has seen numerous legendary Hawaiian watermen and top global big wave surfers emerge victorious after masterful rides. Three-time winner Kelly Slater remains an icon, while late Hawaiian surf champion Andy Irons’s back-to-back wins in 2002 and 2004 went down in history.

Hawaiians have dominated the winner’s stand at the Eddie. Besides Andy Irons’s consecutive victories, 2000 winner Noah Johnson and 2016 winner John John Florence showed incredible skill and bravery in the huge surf.

Keala Kennelly made history as the first woman to compete in the Eddie in 2016, cementing her status as one of the world’s best woman big wave surfers.

Unforgettable rides that have won the coveted crown include Californian Tom Carroll’s perfect tube ride in 1986 and Hawaii’s Brock Little’s gigantic wave rides in 2001. Their flawless wave riding demonstrated the incredible talent and guts needed to win at Waimea’s Eddie Aikau contest.

Recap records broken or close calls

As surfers continue to push the limits each year at the prestigious Eddie event, records keep getting broken and danger remains ever-present. Over the decades, the sizes of waves successfully ridden at the Eddie have reached staggering heights over 60 feet in some cases.

Surfers clock faster times through barrels and survive crashing horrors.

Close calls are also par for the course at this big wave spectacle. From broken boards to near drownings, there have been some narrow escapes. In 2016, superstar woman surfer Paige Alms nearly drowned after a brutal two-wave hold down left her struggling to survive.

While rescues are quick, danger lurks as surfers test their mettle against Waimea’s mythical surf.

Riding giants at the Eddie has also led to injuries for many competitors. Wipeouts, direct wave impacts, and reef strikes have sidelined more than a few surfers over the decades. But the quest for the glory of winning one of surfing’s most extreme contests keeps them coming back year after year in search of the magic Eddie ride.


In conclusion, the Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau is one of surfing’s most revered and feared events – considered the Super Bowl of big wave surfing. Held in giant surf at Oahu’s Waimea Bay only when conditions permit, it brings together an exclusive crew of the world’s best big wave surfers to honor the legacy of Eddie Aikau, the legendary Hawaiian waterman.

We covered the unique history behind the Eddie contest, why Waimea Bay provides the perfect venue, what makes competing there so challenging, how the athletes train and prepare, the process of getting invited, as well as some memorable moments over the years.

I hope this provided a comprehensive look at this one-of-a-kind surfing event that truly exemplifies the spirit of ‘Eddie would go’.

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