On average, I see this saying on t-shirts and bumper stickers at least once a day in Hawaii. It refers to Oahu lifeguard and Waimea Bay surfer, Eddie Aikau. He became legendary in the 1980s when the Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokule'a capsized in the Moloka'i Channel and he paddled for help, never to be seen again. The phrase "Eddie Would Go" has since become a motto to mean different things about taking risks in both surfing and life, as well as helping others. Perhaps its most common connotation, though, is the big wave surfing contest on the north shore of Oahu, which began the winter of 1984/1985.
On the rare occasion that north shore waves stretch higher than 20 feet, surf pros flock to the island to participate in the impromptu Quicksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau surf invitational in Waimea Bay. The event is always called the day prior, so surfers harking from far-off places like Australia and Brazil have to arrive early, just in case. The last contest was held in the winter of 2004/2005, so witnessing not only waves of this size, but also this contest is truly a privilege.
Last Tuesday, Dec. 8th felt like a holiday. Kids and teachers skipped school to see the 40-50 ft. waves. Some north shore beaches were blocked off with yellow tape. Nobody was allowed to swim or get near the water as it reshaped the beaches. Ocean mist coated cars in salt. Traffic backed up for miles, and Waimea beach was so crowded that most onlookers watched from surrounding cliffs. 40-50 ft waves sound impressive, and they look astronomical in pictures and on TV. But when you are standing on the beach and watching people glide down waves as tall as a 4-story building, your stomach drops. Spectators shrieked and yelled, and simultaneously let out a deep sigh when surfers rode the waves without getting injured.
All the big names were at the contest - Kelly Slater, Bruce Irons, Sunny Garcia, and more. The winner, Greg Long, was considered by some to be an underdog before the big day. This was his first time surfing in the contest, and he said that winning this was his childhood dream-come-true.
A note on surfing the north shore:
Thanks to winter storms in the northern Pacific that push large swells southward, surf season on the north shore lasts from October to April. Waves are typically 8-15 ft tall, and are best surfed by experienced surfers. There are a few beginner breaks, and several places that offer lessons. Before paddling out to surf, it is important you understand the currents and reef. Surfing is a great sport for kids and grandparents, alike, and something not to be missed if you make it out to the north shore. After all, Eddie would go.