Eddie Would Go: The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Surfing Competition


If you are a surfer, you likely know about the Quicksilver #Eddiewouldgo Eddie Aikau Big Wave Surfing Competition. If you are not a surfer this might be new- but it’s really cool so I will tell you about it. The Eddie Aikau, which is a big wave surfing competition in honor of the Hawaiian lifeguard and big wave surfer, began in 1985 and takes place on Oahu’s North Shore at Waimea Bay. The competition has only taken place eight times (2015 will be the ninth) in its fabled history, as there must be 20’+ waves (which means the face of the wave will be closer to 30′) for the competition to take place. Participation is by invite only- you cannot compete to get in. Surfers must paddle into the waves without a jet ski tow-in. 


Eddie Aikau. Photo by Dan Merkel

Eddie Aikau was born on Maui but moved to Oahu as a teenager, where he became a lifeguard at Waimea Bay. While working on the North Shore, he began charging the massive waves that would form in the bay, and became known as one of the area’s best surfers. He surfed with an inimitable Hawaiian style: his legs bowed and almost frog-like, arms flying to the side, and his crazy curls and big smile emerging from enormous barrels.

Dan Merkel

Under Eddie’s watch as a lifeguard, over 500 lives were saved and not one was lost. In a 2013 documentary, Sam George (former editor at both SURFER Magazine and Surfing Magazine) recounts Eddie’s prominent role as a peacemaker in Hawaiian surfing turf wars in the early 1970’s. Australian surfers had come to Oahu with a bit of attitude and swagger, and with little respect for the local surf culture. Traditional Hawaiians were fighting a commercialized culture of international competitive surfing. Fist fights were brewing, and death threats towards the Australians were circulating. Eddie, who loved the ocean first and foremost, showed courage and leadership by diplomatically cooling the fire between both sides. According to George, Eddie, once again, put himself in jeopardy for the good of others to create peace.

363935-cali-surfers by John Foster

Photo by John Foster

Eddie’s selflessness culminated in his own death. Aikau lost his life while rescuing others during a 2500 mile canoe paddle in 1978, when the crew’s boat capsized. Eddie took off to paddle to shore for help. His body was never recovered.

Aikau Sunset Beach Jeff DIvine

Eddie Aikau at Sunset Beach. Photo by Jeff Divine

Now I am no big wave surfer, and never will be. I am in awe of big wave surfers, but I am a long boarder who doesn’t really do waves too far over my head. However, one of the themes of Saltwater Chef is overcoming fear and finding ‘flow’ as a pathway to health and a full life. A phrase developed over the years in honor of the way Eddie Aikau lived his life: “Eddie Would Go.” The phrase has become synonymous with paddling out into waves even when you are afraid. This could translate into every area of life- anything that takes some guts. It means living life with courage and adventure, in service to others. And this month, at Waimea Bay, if the waves cooperate, we might just have the privilege of watching some of the world’s best big wave surfers compete in the 31st Eddie Aikau Competition. 


Eddie’s brother, Clyde, describes the iconic phrase in an interview with Quicksilver: “I think the phrase Eddie Would Go is really a phrase that would ultimately say that one would put themselves out there for the betterment of others. That could relate to anybody – a person from Waikiki, a tourist, or some extreme surfer. Just helping out somebody else is what Eddie Would Go is about.”

To follow the event, click here

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