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|The most famous red board in surfing.|
"It's an honor to be back here again," tells defending Eddie champion Greg Long. It's the opening ceremony for the 26th annual Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau, and 28 of the world's premier big-wave surfers have amassed to usher in yet another waiting period and celebrate the life of Eddie.
"There's so much history and legacy behind this event, it's undoubtedly the most prestigious big-wave event in the whole world," continues Long. "It was a dream of mine to one day win it. I still have a hard time finding the words to try and describe it. It doesn't seem real. It's just an amazing experience coming back every year to celebrate the event, the wave and the wonderful person that Eddie was."
While never without its revelry, this year's opening ceremony did carry with it a somewhat somber tone -- or at least when compared to last year. Last year everybody gathered knowing full well that a day of historic surf was before them. It was electric. Guys were out taking off on 20-foot bombs while the prayer was being said. Shane Dorian caught one of the waves of the year while the barbeque was being served. Tom Carroll destroyed his ankle as the sun went down. But this year, well, not so much. The bay was a lake, the weather uncooperative, and then there were those still in mourning after the loss of Andy Irons.
|With Bruce Irons still morning the loss of his brother, this year's ceremony held special meaning.|
From now until Feb. 28 the North Pacific will be closely monitored, big-wave guns and plane tickets kept at the ready, because, as they say, "the Bay calls the day." Drumming up a full day of 20-foot surf may seem like a miracle at this point in the season, but you never know, stranger things have happened. Last year was the first time the Eddie had ever been held before Christmas.
"I think one thing that's special about this contest is that it's not run every year," tells 26-year Waimea lifeguard Mark Dombrowski. "I think it has more meaning because of that. The conditions have to be just right, and they're not willing to run it just to run it. That really makes a difference. And when they have the opening ceremony here it really brings back a lot of good memories I have from working with Eddie, all the mentoring he did, and that kind of stuff."
|Waimea Bay demonstrating its more spiritual side.|
33 years since his passing on a fateful stormy Hawaiian night, Eddie's become mythic in nature. "I think the biggest thing about it is giving back to the Hawaiian people, you know, giving them a contest they can put their arms around because Eddie is their hero," explained Quiksilver's man in the islands Glen Moncata, referring to the significance of not just the Eddie surf contest itself, but all the activity that goes on around it. "Eddie was a lifeguard here at Waimea, he saved a lot of people, and he's been an inspiration to a lot of big-wave riders as well as the junior lifeguards and things like that. They've all embraced Eddie as the Hawaiian big-wave surfing hero -- and he is all of that."
Among those gathered at the normally quiet Waimea Beach Park was an impressive collection of form champions; Greg Long, Kelly Slater, Bruce Irons, Ross Clarke-Jones, Clyde Aikau, Noah Johnson, and Keone Downing. The Aikau family was present, as were many a friend and loved one of Eddie's. Rain or shine, surf or no swell at all, more than anything the Eddie ceremony is about gathering. It's about celebrating not only the life and times of a Hawaiian hero, but also the bond that joins us all as surfers.