It’s minutes before the event. Each crashing wave exhales its unwanted water particles out of the Bay, cloaking the contest zone in salt and mist. Ten competitors bob in the lineup. The crowd goes berserk as someone paddles over the ledge and down a 40-foot face before the heat starts. Everyone’s asking, “Who was that?” Nobody knows.
At 8 a.m., the horn blows; the Eddie is on.
“When I showed up this morning in the dark, I was a little bit nervous, to be honest,” Greg said after his heat. “The buoy readings were way bigger than anyone could have imagined. But then the sun came out and those nerves turned to excitement. I just wish I had another couple hours to sit out there and get a good one.”
This year, the event is a little different. In 2017, the Aikau family severed ties with the Eddie’s long-term title sponsor, Quiksilver. For a moment, the Eddie was thought to be dead. The following year went by without the annual opening ceremony. But for the 2019–2020 winter, the Eddie Aikau Foundation piecemealed the funding together through nearly 20 sponsors committed to keeping it alive.
“We brought the Eddie back to its Hawaiian roots,” the 1987 event winner, Clyde Aikau, told me on the future of the event in 2020.
Today, the atmosphere and security are lax, more so than when Quik footed the bill. The prize purse is also smaller, but the competitors don’t care. That’s not what this event is about. The Eddie still features the best big-wave surfers in the world: guys like Michael and Mason Ho, John John and Nathan Florence, Shane Dorian, Nathan Fletcher, Makuakai and Koa Rothman, Ross Clarke-Jones, Grant Baker, Billy Kemper, and plenty more. But most notably, for the first time ever, six women invitees—Paige Alms, Keala Kennelly, Emily Erickson, Makani Adric, Andrea Moller and Justine Dupont—are part of the chaos rumbling through Waimea Bay’s natural amphitheater. They’re in the same 10-person heat draws as the men.
At 11 a.m., Paige Alms makes her way down the beach. Hordes of surf fans shout her name and wish her luck. As she walks to the water line, the crowd’s volume rises and Paige runs into the water, jumps on her board and turns turtle through the thumping shore-pound. Hawaiian Water Patrol pulls a ski in front her; she grabs the sled on the back, pulls her board out of the water and zips into the lineup.