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Thursday, November 29, 2012
Updated: November 30, 4:51 PM ET
Downing talks story on Eddie


Waimea Bay
The Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau waiting period is Dec. 1 through Feb 28 at Waimea Bay.

There was a breeze of change blowing through Waimea Valley down to "The Bay" at the opening ceremony of the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau yesterday. The big wave invitational's blessing, invitee intros and photo-ops were moved from the grassy, park area to the sandy beach zone in front of the restrooms.

But the monumental change to this one-day big wave surfing event that requires waves of 20 feet or more, was the incoming freshmen. Defending Vans Triple Crown Champ John John Florence, 20, Maui hellman Ian Walsh, 29, and Californian charger Alex Gray, 26, experienced the Eddie opening ceremony as invitees for the first time.

Clyde Aikau, 63, who is a former winner of this event (1986) and brother to late-Hawaiian waterman Eddie Aikau, spoke of the youth to the hundreds in attendance. On the microphone, the animated Hawaiian said he can't wait to paddle out for a heat at Waimea against John John.

Most notably missing from the opening ceremony "gun show" and paddle out was 1990 Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau Champion Keone Downing. He is the first former event champ to not be invited to the main event, but the fifth alternate at The Eddie this year.

Koene Downing is the son of big-wave pioneer and The Eddie's Contest Director George Downing. During the opening ceremony he stood near the Waimea lifeguard tower with his dad. At 59 years old, the Native Hawaiian will tell you that he would still love to surf in The Eddie and have the chance to ride "The Bay" with only a handful of surfers.

Koene Downing
Keone Downing talked about one legend while spending the afternoon with another.

When Keone was 12, his father introduced him to Eddie Aikau while surfing the North Shore.

"Eddie was always one to pick the waves he wanted to catch, he wasn't into catching a lot of waves," said Keone. "He wanted good waves and I feel like he let people surf more than you would think because he believed the ocean was to share -- to share rides because the fun was seeing each other's grins and eyes wide open."

Eddie was three years older than Keone, and both surfers lived through the Shortboard Revolution. While there were many stylish surfers during their prime, Eddie always stood out from the pack because of his wide, solid stance that developed from surfing big waves, explained Downing.

"When you came to a beach you could tell Eddie was riding a wave because you could see his style," he explained. "That was always an enjoyment [for me] because they all had style, but nothing like Eddie's."

On Jan. 21, 1990 Keone Downing won the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau, and on that day he wasn't concerned about victory or defeat. Rather, he competed to honor his friend who was lost at sea while going for help when the Hawaiian sailing canoe, Hokulea, capsized. On the winner's podium, Downing dedicated his win to Eddie's father, Pop Aikau.

Mark Healy
Mark Healy, taking off far deeper than any human should at the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau in 2009, the last time this event was held.

While Keone and Eddie shared numerous sessions of world-class waves, Keone's fondest recollection of Eddie was during the lulls.

"I think my favorite memory of Eddie is seeing him sitting on his board and smiling," said Keone. "To me that said it all."