The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau officially kicked off the 2014/2015 holding period Thursday with a ceremony to honor its namesake and the big wave heavy-hitters invited to compete. While the event is celebrating its 30th anniversary, it has only run eight times since its inaugural year. The Eddie is a one-day, big wave competition at Oahu's Waimea Bay that runs only when wave heights reach 40 feet and over.
A who's-who of big wave surfing, iconic lifeguard and bodysurfer Mark Cunningham was the emcee for the event, introducing each surfer on the contest roster and inviting them to receive a lei. Kahu Billy Mitchell was the spiritual officiant; he delivered a powerful speech that was one-part memoriam and one-part sermon with traditional Hawaiian words peppered throughout. The pillars of the Quiksilver Eddie, he said, are passion, respect, and aloha. Eddie Aikau was the embodiment of all three.
Ramon Navarro (CHL) was among the competitors in attendance. "Surfing the Eddie is the biggest opportunity you have in your life," he said.
An ASP Big Wave World Tour competitor, Navarro has been invited to the Eddie eight times and had the chance to surf it once, in 2009.
"There's nothing that compares. It gives me chicken skin every time I talk about it. You cannot explain it. Especially for me, who comes from a country so far away from Hawaii. I dreamed when I was little kid of one day even being in Hawaii, and then to come here and be part of this, and be in the Eddie and feel the aloha from the Aikau family and all the Hawaiians, it's the biggest honor of my life."
"You've got to be on your game, physically, mentally," he said. "You're playing with your life, so you want to be taking it really seriously.
"It's not a contest where you have to think about your game plan and all that. You have to think about health. And you have to think about being at the right spot at the right time and catching the biggest wave you can."
But at a ceremony where invited competitors from Garrett McNamara to Danny Fuller (HAW) had their toddlers in tow, it was clear that in contrast to the chest-thumping of professional surfing, Ohana -- the Hawaiian word for family -- is at the contest's core.
Following the traditional surfers' circle and blessings on land, the invited athletes paddled out at Waimea and gave their leis to the sea as an offering, called a "Ho'okupo" in Hawaiian.
"This is not a contest," Navarro said after the paddle-out, beads of water still on his face and big-wave gun under his arm. "This is a celebration of Eddie Aikau's life -- one of the greatest watermen in the history of surfing and the sport.
"Everyone talks about aloha. This is aloha. The Aikau family is aloha. That's why everyone is so happy and so stoked to be part of this. No one's competing, just celebrating."