I love the Eddie so much. But does it still matter?
Oh happiest of days. Surfing’s most wonderfully historic, yet rarely executed, event has been given the green light! Yes ladies and gentlemen, the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau is set to run this Wednesday at the famous Waimea Bay.
I’ve already written everything I can about the wonderful event so let’s turn to Matt Warshaw’s masterwork, The Encyclopedia of Surfing, for a history lesson:
The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau was conceived and developed by Quiksilver marketing chiefs Danny Kwock and Jeff Hakman, along with CEO Bob McKnight and Aikau family friend Eddie Rothman. “The Eddie,” as it’s usually called, wasn’t initially planned as a big-wave contest, and the mostly-forgotten inaugural was held in 1984 in six to eight-foot surf at Sunset Beach, with Hawaiian surfer Denton Miyamura taking the $5,000 first-place check.
The contest was retooled the following year into a Waimea speciality event. Thirty surfers were invited, and the minimum wave-height requirement was set at 20 feet, as determined by newly hired event director and Hawaiian big-wave pioneer George Downing. Waimea, at that point the world’s most famous big-wave break, had been Eddie Aikau’s favorite spot, and he was the best rider there from the mid-’60s until his death. Surf contests had previously been held at Waimea—including the 1974 Smirnoff, the 1980 Duke Classic, and the 1985 Billabong Pro—but in each case the decision to run at Waimea had been made spontaneously.
Big-wave riding was coming back into vogue in the mid-’80s after a 15-year low period, and the 1986 Quiksilver contest encouraged the trend. The Waimea surf was 25 feet, give or take, rough and windblown. Surfers were divided into three groups, and each 10-man heat rode for an hour; the process was repeated, but with 45-minute heats, and each contestant’s first- and second-round scores were combined for a final tally. The contest ended in a draw between Mark Foo (who coined the phrase “Eddie Would Go” during the event) and 36-year-old Clyde Aikau, Eddie’s younger brother, with Aikau winning on a tiebreaker. Ken Bradshaw finished third. Clyde rode a 10-year-old board that had belonged to Eddie.
For three years, the surf at Waimea didn’t meet the minimum Quiksilver-Eddie requirement. The 1990 version of the event, however, was magnificent—”A monumental day in surfing history,” as described by Australia’s Surfing Lifemagazine—with smooth-faced waves up to 30 feet. Hawaiian surfer Brock Little rode inside the tube on one wave, not long after taking a spectacular wipeout on the day’s biggest wave, but Keone Downing—George Downing’s son—was the most consistent performer and took the $55,000 winner’s check, the richest prize in surfing history up to that point. Little was second; Richard Schmidt of Santa Cruz finished third.
In years to come, new developments in big-wave surfing—the discovery of breaks like Maverick’s, Jaws, and Cortes Bank; the introduction of other big-wave contests—reduced the impact of the Quiksilver-Eddie. In the early ’00s, in fact, the event was relegated to back-page status in the surf magazines. With the resurgence of paddle-in big-wave surfing in the mid-’00s, however, the Quiksilver-Eddie also made a comeback, and Greg Long’s come-from-behind win in the 2009 contest was one of the year’s greatest competitive moments.
This last paragraph is very interesting to me and especially pertinent due to the recent, and wild, surfing happening at Maui’s Jaws. Let’s ask Matt Warshaw if the Eddie still matters! (I’ll update story with his opinion when he stops gazing, lovingly, at the Space Needle and responds.)
(And here is surfing’s poet laureate right here, Space Needle be damned!)