... and he did.
It's a celebration of life, for Eddie Aikau, a man that saved over 500 lives during his time as lifeguard at Waimea Bay, the location where this competition is now held. Eddie was known to tackle waves and rescue attempts that faltered many with more advanced equipment, it became a reality of just Eddie and his board, saving lives throughout the north shore of Hawaii.
The Eddie, the most esteemed and prestigious big wave competition in the world, found itself squarely in my worldview through no fault of its own. I was exploring Hawaii visiting my little brother for my birthday, meandering about this picturesque island of Oahu until word of a surf competition began to burble.
I had to be there.
It turns out that The Eddie was a bit of a unicorn in term of surf competitions, not an annual thing, not semi-annual, not even biennial; no. The last time the Eddie Big Wave Competition was enacted was 2016, prior to that was 2009. It's based entirely on the rhythm of the sea and the way in which the climate would impact the waves in the upcoming weeks. The requirements for the competition is a range in open-ocean wave height; at the very least reaching 20ft above the water, culminating in swells in Waimea Bay reaching between 30 to 50ft in height.
In fact; it was scheduled for last week but canceled, and continued forward to this weekend, Sunday.
I'm not sure if my little brother and his two roommates knew about this upcoming event or not, but they were gracious enough to give me the opportunity to experience it with them once we heard.
I charged my batteries, stashed my lenses and stuffed my bag with every bit of kit I had, there was no telling what I would encounter as this would be my first time shooting professional surf and experiencing this culture at one of its heightened peaks. I had to be prepared.
We borrowed a family friends minivan, loaded up with all of our clothes, some snacks, gear in the back and set metaphorical sail for Waimea Bay, along the northern shores of Oahu. We had the foresight to leave one night early, pulling out of the garage at 8 or 9 in the evening, trudging through the dark hours and single-lane highways of Kamehameha.
To our surprise, it seems almost half the island was also experiencing the same foresight because the traffic even this early to the competition was abysmal. As we passed we saw hundreds of event goers parked up on embankments and private driveways, in increasingly more precarious situations just to find a space to call their own.
We ended up pushing a little more than half a mile further north of Waimea, finding ourselves an embankment that wouldn't tip over our poor overloaded minivan, and set up camp for the night.
The boys and I did not sleep. Not a single lick of it.
Between our parking spot neighbors being an energetic VW bus blasting music throughout the night and the unyielding energy of the atmosphere all around us, it was incredibly hard to sleep. We ended up taking a celebratory drink together, grabbed our walkie-talkies and pushed into the dark, meeting everyone else finding themselves energetic at 3am. I was very obviously ecstatic.
Throughout the night, arriving upon Waimea Bay itself, we found ourselves overlooking a crowd of hundreds of excited and precarious people, vying for the best viewpoint of tomorrow's events. Some had set up tents and campsites and barbecues in order to survive the night. Many pushed too far along the beach, not recognizing that the biggest of the waves were coming closer to morning-time, and those that had laid sleeping peacefully awoke dashed across several others, soaked in seawater and biting coarse sand.
As morning established over the bay, the very first lifeguard personnel and surfers lined alone the beach at this entry point. The official announcer tower was on the other side of the bay, separated by a continuous wave of seawater that cut an estuary through the elevated sand bar, separating the two halves of Waimea.
We were on the side of the surfer's launch, in the best viewing angle overlooking the crowds, at the literal dawn of an incredible spectacle.
As the waves increased in magnitude, more and more of the crowd awoke and became as energetically charged as the ocean; it was feverish and yet pushing through the dense crowd was manageable and polite. Many surfers looked like gladiators; life vests bubbled underneath their bright neon "EDDIE WOULD GO" competition attire, surfboard under arm or overhead as their coaches parted the metaphorical sea.
Each surfer walking towards the launch point, striving for the right wave, was greeted with enthusiastic cheers from the spectators. It was a formidable challenge to face some of the largest waves surfed by man, and to intentionally stare them down before venturing into the unknown.
I was in awe, and cheered wildly each time.
Those that I had the opportunity to photograph tried their hardest to poker face, but the determination mixed with fear was visible in their face, along their salt-streaked faces and squinted eyes.
This was about where it ended for me.
I tried my best to stay above water, and was prepared to shoot all day despite not sleeping the night before; the energy was paramount, it fed me as much as the ocean was feeding the bay.
I was told to stay behind a safety officer, who scolded me such that "You'll lose your camera!", but I had stable and elevated footing; a portion of the sandbar that was above the majority, leaving me to battle a diminished wave and shoot to my heart's content.
I ultimately moved behind the safety officer, and the next wave afterward resulted in an immense washout- throwing the overseer into my legs, toppling me and my gear into the wave and salt-washing all of my equipment, ending my adventures on the North Shore.
A bittersweet experience, but all I can say is cheers to the next time the bay calls the day.