Waiting for the Bay to Call

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - December 17, 2008
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Contestants gather in memory of Eddie Aikau before the last contest

It’s a call that doesn’t come often, but when it’s made the entire surfing world knows.

Each winter the world’s best big-wave riders wait with high anticipation for the Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational In Memory of Eddie Aikau at Waimea Bay. The event was created in 1985 to honor the great waterman who was lost at sea while attempting to save crewmembers of the capsized voyaging canoe Hokule’a 30 years ago.

“Every year the whole family is humbled to see all of these big-time surfers from all over the world come here to give their love and aloha to us,” says Clyde Aikau, the younger brother of Eddie and the event’s first winner at Waimea. “It’s what Eddie was all about: plenty of aloha toward the people.”

Event director George Downing was the first to say, “The bay calls the day.” And although Downing is technically the one who makes the call if the event is a go, he does only after the bay says so.

“George ultimately makes the call, but he always asks, ‘Bruddah Clyde, what you think?’” chuckles Aikau.


In the past 23 years, the event has been held only seven times - once at Sunset Beach, the rest at Waimea. Conditions must be ideal for a one-day competition when 28 invited surfers attack waves that must reach the required minimum of 20 feet with wave face heights of more than 30 feet.

“It has to be consistent size, it can’t be one 25-foot wave in one hour,” says Aikau. “The winds are a big deal, too. If it’s sloppy and the guys can’t get past the shore break, it won’t happen. I’ve always said if they can get past the shore break, they’ll ride it.”

What few may recall is the first event held at Sunset Beach during the founding year. Local surfer Denton Miyamura tore up the competition in perfect 10-foot surf. Since then, Waimea Bay has played host to the world’s best big-wave riders, including Clyde Aikau, who proved to be the best on Feb. 21, 1987.

This winter, at the age of 59, Aikau is the oldest invitee.

“It’s real exciting and I feel really good because I’ve been training for the last four, five months and I’ve lost more than 15 pounds,” Aikau says proudly. “I am the oldest guy in the event, but I haven’t been in this kind of shape in 20 years.”

Since Aikau’s victory there have only been five other winners at Waimea: In 1990, Keone Downing captured the $50,000 first-place prize; Noah Johnson of the Big Island in 1999; Australia’s Ross Clarke-Jones in 2000; nine-time world champion Kelly Slater of Florida in 2002, and in 2004 Kauai’s own Bruce Irons.

“To tell you the truth, I really didn’t think the event would be going this long because it’s not easy to find sponsorships,” says Aikau. “We are just grateful that our relationship with Quiksilver has been great all these years, and we all know without help from sponsors you can’t do anything.”

This year’s holding period is from Dec. 4, 2008 to Feb. 28, 2009, and if the right conditions don’t arrive, the event simply is not held. The total prize money is now at $98,000 with the top prize of $55,000.

“The purse is nice, but for us guys who ride big waves, we’re going to be out there no matter what,” laughs Aikau. “The holding period goes all the way to next February, so it’s a long haul. Mentally and physically you have to stay prepared for three months. You’ve got to be in top form and top shape. You have to be serious because you can get hurt.”

They’re standing by - waiting for the call.

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