'The Eddie': Hawaii's most prestigious surf competition makes epic return with monster waves

The 2023 Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational honors the legend of Hawaii big-wave surfer pioneer and lifeguard Eddie Aikau. For the first time in The Eddie's 39-year history, women competed this year.

OAHU, Hawaii Lifeguard Luke Shepardson was dubbed the champion of the 2022-2023 Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational on Sunday, fitting for a competition created to honor pioneering Big Wave surfer and lifeguard Eddie Aikau. 

For the first time in seven years, "The Eddie" returned to Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu. 

First started in 1984 in memory of North Shore's first lifeguard, Aikau, who died attempting to save the crew of a canoe in 1978, the competition is considered one of the most prestigious of its kind. According to Surfline, "there's no greater honor in surfing" than to compete in the Big Wave event because the Aikau family must invite surfers. 

Forty surfers and 18 alternatives were invited to take part this year. The 2023 invitational was the first year women competed in the Big Wave event. 

This year, Shepardson was among three lifeguards invited to take part, according to the North Shore Lifeguard Association. Lifeguards Dave Wassel and Joey Cadiz were also invitees.

Sunday marked only the 10th running of "The Eddie" because the competition requires consistent waves of at least 20 feet or bigger during Hawaii's winter season between Dec. 14 and March 23.

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Surfers competed in two rounds of eight-person heats and are rated on their top four waves. The highest possible score is 90 points, Shepardson won with a score of 89.1. 

According to Surfline, only nine people have ever won "The Eddie." Kelly Slater, Bruce Irons, Greg Long and John Florence are the more recent winners over the past 20 years. 

In years past, the invitational was canceled when waves did not meet the competition's 20-foot requirement. The waves this weekend did not disappoint.

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Surfline director of forecasting Kevin Wallis said 30- to 40-foot waves were forecast for the event day. On the 25-foot Hawaiian Wave Scale, waves are 50 feet from trough to crest.

The National Weather Service Honolulu issued High Surf Warnings through the weekend for the north and west shores, with 25- to 55-foot waves forecast through Monday evening. 

KHON2 reported about 40,000 people flocked to Waimea Bay to see the surfers in action. 

Hawaii News Now reported lifeguards were kept busy rescuing dozens of people from waves that swelled on shore, including one that swept a child under a home on the North Shore. The child was not injured. 

Several videos posted by Hawaii Ocean Safety showed onlookers getting bowled over by huge waves and sucked back out by the surf. 

"Hold onto your kids," someone over a megaphone can be heard telling the crowd on the other side of the safety railing. 

Facing Mother Nature 

Professional big-wave surfer Will Skudin of Long Beach, New York, explained to FOX Weather how surfers prepare for events like "The Eddie."

"The training, the equipment, and just everything leading up to the day, it's almost like an F1, you know, you're always just dialing everything, all the elements," Skudin said. "You have to match Mother Nature in the spot at the right time."

Skudin recently surfed the 50-foot waves in an area known as Cortes Bank in the Pacific Ocean about 90 miles off the southern California coast. 

Being a big-wave surfer also means being patient and waiting for the right opportunity.

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"It's wild," Skudin said. "Sometimes you're waiting for over a decade like you saw (during) the Eddie Aikau. Sometimes you're waiting forever just to get the opportunity."

While there are multiple ways to measure wave height in surfing, Skudin said it comes down to three elements in your surf forecast: swell, wind and tide. 

Monster waves continue to pound Hawaii's coast this week, according to the NWS Honolulu. 

High Surf Advisories remain in effect for parts of the Hawaiian Islands on Monday, with 35-foot waves possible in isolated areas.

Waimea Bay, the home of The Eddie Aikau Invitational, is forecast to have waves around 18 feet on Monday.

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