The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational

by : Adam Singleton

In November each year, the North Shore of Oahu - Hawaii's big island - proves a magnet for the world's most hardened surfers. It is here that waves, having travelled 1,000 miles across the Pacific crash onto the shore as enormous rollers. Many surf competitions are held on the North Shore in winter, but the biggest is undoubtedly the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. This competition has no set dates but is called when the waves at Waimea Bay reach heights in excess of ten metres.

The competition is named after an unassuming surf champion who passed away in 1978 in tragic circumstances at the age of 32. Answering the call for volunteers from the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Eddie Aikau agreed to be part of the crew seeking to recreate an ancient Polynesian migration between Hawaii and the Tahitian chain, some 2,400 miles south of Honolulu. Travelling in a replica double-hulled canoe, Aikau and his fellow crew members left Hawaii on March 16th but soon ran into difficulties.

After developing a leak in one of the hulls, the canoe eventually capsized, dumping everyone into the Pacific. Clinging onto the stricken vessel, Aikau and the hapless crew became caught up in a strong southerly current which took them 12 miles to the West of the island of Lanai. As their situation became increasingly desperate and with no rescue forthcoming, Aikau insisted on attempting to swim to Lanai to raise help. Eventually his captain reluctantly agreed and he swam off into the distance at 10.30 that morning, never to be seen again. The rest of his crew remained with the capsized canoe and were rescued by midnight.

Prior to his tragic demise, Eddie was a champion surfer, an extremely well-respected member of the Hawaiian surfing community and the first lifeguard at the Waimea Bay Beach Park, North Shore, where his memorial statue now stands. During his role as a lifeguard on the North Shore Eddie saved the lives of many swimmers and surfers and not a single person was lost on his watch.

If you wish to witness the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational it is worth considering that, although the North Shore of Oahu is undeniably beautiful, it offers limited accommodation options. It would be better to stay at one of the many hotels in Waikiki, Honolulu, on the south of the island and drive up to the North Shore when the invitational is announced. As it only happens when the waves exceed ten metres you might want to while away your time in lively Honolulu and practice your surfing skills on Waikiki Beach rather than kick your heels at the North Beach.