Surfers hoping big waves call
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
|||Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational
What: Big-wave surfing contest
Where: Waimea Bay
When: One day between today and Feb. 29, surf permitting
Who: 24 invited big-wave surfers from around the world
Contest requirements: Can only run on a day when waves are at least 20 feet and rideable
The holding period for the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational is underway.
The contest can take place only on a single day when traditional wave heights are at least 20 feet (with 40-foot faces) and surfable at Waimea Bay between now and the end of February.
Because of those stringent standards, the contest has been completed only five times since its creation in 1985. As contest director George Downing likes to say, "the Bay calls the day."
But each year, 24 elite big-wave surfers are selected to participate in the contest, should it run that year. A panel of surfers and officials makes the selections.
This year, three Hawai'i surfers were first-time selections: Mark Healey, Makua Rothman and Jamie Sterling.
"It's better than winning a contest," Healey said of making the list. "If you win a contest, you're the best surfer for that day. To be picked for this contest, it means you're respected as a big-wave surfer. It's as big an honor you can get."
Rothman, 19, is the youngest surfer on this year's list. He proved his worth last year when he was towed into a 66-foot wave at Pe'ahi, Maui, earning him $66,000 for what was judged to be the biggest wave of the year.
"The older men have the experience in their favor, the younger men bring new enthusiasm and new energy," Downing said. "It's a natural progression."
Healey is 21, but already has five years of practice in 20-foot waves.
"I remember when I first used to come out, the older guys used to tell me, 'Does your mommy know you're out here?' " he said. "But those same guys helped me learn so much about surfing big waves."
Sterling is 22, but has already competed in two Eddie Aikau contests, including a 10th place finish in January 2002. But in those two appearances, he was allowed into the event as an alternate because other surfers failed to show.
"In the big-wave world, this is the most elite contest you can be in," Sterling said. "It's an honor to even be on the alternate list. To make the official list is incredible."
The Irons brothers Andy and Bruce also made the list. They were selected for the first time last year, but the contest did not run.
"It's as prestigious as anything we have in the sport," said Andy Irons, the defending world champion. "It's big just to be on the list. I can't imagine the feeling when it actually runs."
While tow-in surfing has made an impact in the sport in recent years, "The Eddie" remains the oldest and most respected big-wave contest in the world.
In tow-in surfing, the surfer is pulled into a wave by a thrillcraft. The speed of the thrillcraft allows the surfer to ride big waves that would otherwise not be accessible through normal arm strokes. In the Eddie Aikau contest, all surfers must paddle into their own waves.
"It's a totally different feeling," Sterling said. "Paddling with your bare hands to catch a wave, and then making that drop (down the wave face) it's the best feeling."
What's more, the contest was created to honor Eddie Aikau, one of Hawai'i's greatest watermen who was lost at sea during a rescue attempt for the Hokule'a voyaging canoe.
Clyde Aikau, Tom Carroll, Ross Clarke-Jones, Shane Dorian, Keone Downing, John Gomes, Laird Hamilton, Mark Healey, Michael Ho, Andy Irons, Bruce Irons, Noah Johnson, Brian Keaulana, Rusty Keaulana, Brock Little, Peter Mel, Myles Padaca, Paul Paterson, Tony Ray, Makua Rothman, Kelly Slater, Jamie Sterling, Darryl Virostko, Ross Williams.
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com or 535-8101.