The Leap Year Eddie Aikau

While it must have surely been nice to have been on the beach at Waimea Bay on Thursday, February 25, 2016, to watch The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau surfing contest, watching it on my computer, listening to the commentators, taking in the color, and watching my friends’ Julie Wassel and Mike Gordon’s Facebook feeds more than made up for it. In fact, I promise you my heart raced, there was a lump in my throat, it was impossible to avoid the Aloha Spirit as it radiated from my screen.

Congratulations to John John Florence, a Young Gun from Haleiwa on his amazing win. Changing of the guard and all that. What a phenomenal surfer — as they all were.

Why was this such a spectacular event, colossal waves aside?

Did you get to watch? Here is the Quiksilver video that I cannot stop stacking up my views. Spectacular. Watch it if you’ve only seen it 0-10 times:

It has been too long since I’ve been on my dusty 9’6″ surfboard, but I am psyched to get out there again once I’ve finished this year of chemotherapy (melanoma stage 3a, thanks to surfing, swimming, and sunburns ever since I was a little on the Jersey Shore). When I first came to Hawaii in 1981, I started surfing within months of arriving. I learned from really great surfer friends: Ben Aipa, Bobby Kekoanui, Curtis Miyashiro, Rell Sunn, Yolanda Elliot, Tony Moniz. I first paddled out in Waikiki, but soon moved on to the Cliffs at Diamond Head, Number Threes, Ala Moana Bowls, Tennis Courts, Nanakuli, Makaha, Chun’s Reef, Laniakea, Haleiwa, Pipeline (SMALL), Val’s Reef (left some skin there), Rocky Point, and Velzyland. Did I just drop a lot of names? So what, haha. I got to surf with famous surfers before they were famous — like Sunny Garcia and Shawn Thompson (well, he was famous back then). Do they remember me? Hell no. Just one of a handful of chicks in the lineup during the 80s.

So for me, it was a wonderful thing to see a different kind of surfing event. In the contests I had been in, I and others would witness bad sportsmanship and punches thrown if someone dared to take off in front of someone else. Fins got broken off, boards snapped in half, rage upon rage among hot-tempered braddahs. At one contest another woman purposely tried to drop in on me but she fell off her board and I went on to score a great wave, and placing high enough to get a trophy. She later apologized. Sheesh. Head games.

What was happening during the Eddie? There were some spectacular collisions out there, late drops, wipe outs, and crossed boards. What happened when the sea spray cleared and they paddled back to the lineup? To me it looked like it stayed pretty mellow. How come?

When you watch this clip, very early on you see an Aunty, maybe even an Aunty Aikau  — confirmed, Aunty Myra Aikau (Mahalo, Jules!), talking to the athletes about what it means to them, what it means to Eddie, and what was expected.

“…Eddie would want you to help each other…” she said. That dropped right into my heart. What a wonderful way to paddle out to surf, no matter where your favorite break is. Emulating what Eddie would do while out at your big break or your little ankle-snapper secret spot, that sensibility would make every surfing safari a joy.

It was confirmed from the Quiksilver Facebook page: “When Koa Rothman said — “I just wanted to get a photo of me with my brother Makua (Rothman) an Kala (Alexander) behind me,” you get the sense that the guys out there were having a blast, enjoying each other, and catching the most massive waves ever seen at Waimea Bay.

The live interviews by Kaipo Guerrero (I surfed with his dad and I remember when he would paddle out at like nine years old) on the beach brought us right to the heart of what Kelly Slater was feeling when he got tucked into a tube sent directly from the late Brock Little, a middle-aged surfer guy who succumbed to cancer a few weeks before (He’s younger than me, so relax).

My friend Julie Wassel’s brother Dave, a North Shore lifeguard, came in seventh place in this amazing event. If you watch the clip I’ve linked, you see Dave on his board courtesy of a GoPro camera giving us a view from the nose. It was phenomenal. Dave was the only guy who completed four waves in each heat. He wen charge ’em like one beeg bull! Again, his joy became my joy and I was hooting like it was the Eagles at the Super Bowl!

Kaipo also interviewed Bonga Perkins of water patrol. Here’s another guy I would see in the lineup when he should have been at school, LOL. Seeing him as part of water patrol made sense to me, as he and his lifeguard brothers are natural watermen. When that monster set chased all of water patrol to the beach on their jet skis, you know it had to be deafening. No matter where you surf, there’s always that rogue set ready to clear things up, heh.

Finally, it should be noted that Eddie’s little brother, Clyde, paddled out to participate in his last Eddie. Clyde is nine years older me at 66, not 57 like I am (That’s what I initially thought!). I really had a fear for him as he paddled out. I worried about him. I know what it’s like to get tossed by a five-foot wave. Clyde had a sommer-saulting experience down a giant wave that had me moaning out loud at my computer! I guess if you roll with it, you’re probably going to survive. Respect. I am glad Clyde isn’t going to go out into monster Waimea Bay ever again.

No one was hurt. A huge reason to remember this wonderful day.

I doubt we’ll ever see an Eddie like the Leap Year Eddie. What an incredible event.