The idea behind “The Eddie” is that the scarcity is what makes it special. Getting the green light and then having the bay actually call the day is the rush, in itself. Anything that happens after that is just gravy.
Well the gravy boat was absolutely overflowing Thursday as “The Eddie” ran for the first time since 2009. The eight hours of big-wave madness was one of the most incredible days in recent surfing history as the invitees, the alternates who got the call and the water safety crew had their senses tingling while set after set of 40 to 50-foot faces washed through the lineup and left consistent mayhem in their wake.
While John John Florence showcased his casualness and plucked some of the most heart-stopping rides of the winter on his way to the title, some of the day’s other competitors piled on the memorable performances.
At 66 years old, Clyde Aikau represents everything this event is about. His brother’s legacy continues to persevere and Clyde gave Waimea Bay everything he could, just as Eddie did. In his opening heat, Clyde took a couple tumbles going after a few bombs, but he kept getting back out into the lineup and finally showed a beautiful old-school Hawaiian stance on a picture perfect wave. Despite being 43 years older than the eventual champion and not high up the final leaderboard, Clyde set a standard of a different kind.
Kelly Slater is a master at finding the necessary wave when he needs it. Slater’s final ride Thursday didn’t put him in position to win, but it was clutch by other standards. After former Eddie participant and North Shore legend Brock Little passed away on Feb. 18, Slater said he was trying to find a Waimea barrel to commemorate Little’s iconic 1990 performance. With just a few minutes left in his second 60-minute heat, Slater was able to stay high on a medium sized wave and get a quick cover, staying on his feet to ride the thrashing whitewash all the way to the beach. It was the only barrel during the eight heats and a fitting tribute.
At 49 years old, Ross Clarke-Jones still has a number of years left by Clyde Aikau standards, but he pushed the wave’s limits harder than just about anyone of any age. RCJ held the lead through his first two heats and would have earned the prestigious title if not for John John’s brilliance.
Bruce Irons didn’t hit the highlight reel until late in his second heat, but he located a very manageable big wave and styled his way to a 57-point score by staying on his feet as if he were just waterskiing a quiet lake. Irons, Reef McIntosh and Kala Alexander, Kauai’s three competitors, found some pretty waves throughout their days, but Alexander had the heaviest moment of the group. He and former Big Wave Tour champion Makuakai Rothman collided near the top of a huge takeoff and tumbled multiple stories down the face.
These and a host of others are all moments that I’ll surely never forget, but Mason Ho’s wipeout might be most etched in my memory. Ho, who doesn’t have a second gear other than full throttle, took an enormous drop and made it more than halfway down one of the biggest waves of the day before lurching forward and getting cleaned up by a set that eventually sent spectators running up the beach. It wasn’t the steepest fall, but it was so emblematic of Mason — head first at top speed. Thankfully he, and everyone else who endured severe wipeouts all day long — Twiggy Baker, Mark Healey, Nathan Fletcher, just about everyone — walked away unscathed.
After the previous false start, I didn’t let myself get too excited until we got the final word early Thursday morning. That call alone was something to cherish and remember, but the actual surfing was so unique and exciting, we’ll remain fulfilled for however many winters we have to endure before the next Eddie.
But, I mean, we’ll take one next year if Waimea feels like providing.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.