By Mike Latronic

Taking the past 40-50 years into consideration, Waimea Bay stands as the focal point of big wave surfing. Hands down, it was THE spot. Taking the past decade into view and its not. After the Eddie event that just transpired that debate has come full circle. While Waimea cannot take the solo title of King anymore, it is certainly a proud and formidable chieftain of all that represents monster wave riding.

Surfers and surfing enthusiasts have gotten a variety of chills, thrills and spills at all kinds of frightening and relatively new locations like Teauhupoo, Jaws, Shipsterns, Nazare and various outer reefs world over. Big wave riding has evolved to epic standards over the past few decades. Improvements to equipment have played a major role but another big factor is access to more monster waves with the introduction and utilization of jet ski watercraft. Where making one epic, monstrous drop at Waimea used to be the gauge for heavy mettle bravado, nowadays we are seeing 40’ tubes, giant carves and even aerial antics at several of the “other” spots.

On Tuesday Jan 22, 2023 this debate got refocused. Massive walls of water pounded the Hawaiian islands from dawn to dusk and the legendary break at Waimea showed its teeth with a big, bright, white smile reminding us all that while “The Bay” isn’t the only game in town anymore, it is still home to the “Superbowl of Surfing.”

The spectators and fans made their case well known and the underlying theme that the event honors fallen hero Eddie Aikau further makes the day a very special one to the world and the Hawaiian people.

While there were an estimated 50,000- 60,000 people flocking to the area to catch a physical glimpse of the iconic event, the night before was a scene like “Surfing’s Burning Man,” with hundreds of small campsites and thousands parking along the coast as close as they could to sleep in their vehicles.

Seven years had elapsed since John Florence won the last event and it’s so accurate that sage, respected waterman George Downing stated, “The Bay Calls the Day.” Special weather and ocean conditions must line up to orchestrate such a spectacle and after several years of not running and even a close call that got canceled this year, Clyde Aikau and the forecasters nailed it.

Expectations were that the surf would reach 25 to 30 feet, Hawaii scale, which in actuality measures to 50 to 60 linear feet. The conditions met the forecast and then some.
Forty of the most elite big wave specialists were invited including a handful of female chargers. Top names like John Florence, Billy Kemper, Grant Twiggy Baker, Kai Lenny, Ian Walsh, Peter Mel and Ezekiel Lau mixed it up with locals and foreign invitees like Landon McNamara, Luke Shepardson, Ramon Navarro, Kealii Mamala, and Jake Maki to name just a few. Maki was absolutely charging and as a new invitee stood as the youngest surfer in the pack at just 19 years old.

Huge sets would crash against the shoreline cliffs making the earth rattle all day long while the crowd would cheer and cringe audibly as the gladiators would battle their watery dragons.

The energy was incessant. The shaking earth, thick salt spray and cheering crowd kept adrenaline at a high. The waves themselves were as terrifying as they were majestic. After nearly 8 hours of witnessing that I’m sure many people felt shaken, if not forever affected. There’s really nothing like this event in honor of Eddie Aikau and the arena called Waimea Bay.

The swell really focused in at the Bay and the athletes stepped up impressively. Massive props to Hawaiian Water Patrol and the rescue and safety efforts of the Honolulu Lifeguards. What they do to serve and protect the athletes is nothing short of amazing.

In the end it was local hero and north shore lifeguard Luke Shepardson to take out the top spot over past winner John Florence. (see full results)

Despite challenging conditions with a large swell and occasional closeout sets, Shepardson scored a near-perfect 89.1 out of a possible 90 points, preventing John John Florence from becoming the first athlete to win the competition twice. Shepardson, who had to get permission from his supervisor to compete, said it was a dream come true to be part of the competition.

The format of the competition included two rounds of five heats each, with a maximum of four waves ridden per round. After eight hours of intense action, the wave of the day award went to Zeke Lau and Keala Kennelly was awarded the wipeout of the day. The contest has been held in memory of Eddie Aikau since 1985 and is supervised by his brother Clyde Aikau.

2023 The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational Results

1. Luke Shepardson
2. John John Florence
3. Mark Healey
4. Billy Kemper
5. Kai Lenny
6. Zeke Lau
7. Landon Mcnamara
8. Keali’i Mamala

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