Today's amazing Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau engraved itself in thousands, maybe millions of memories, but none more deeply than in San Clemente's Greg Long. The unassuming Big Wave Kid turned everything around in the final heat of an epochal day to become California's first ever Eddie champion, clinching the victory with a magnificent freefall drop and a perfect 100/100 wave score. The last heat changed everything, in fact, when an incredible flurry of 25-foot set waves saw Greg, Sunny Garcia and Ramon Navarro of Chile leapfrog surfers like Kelly Slater, Ross Clarke-Jones and Bruce Irons into victory and the final five. But the big truth about this extraordinary Bay day was never obscured by mere pointscores; as RCJ said between heats, "This isn't a contest, it's an Event." SURFING caught up with Greg not long after he'd accepted the $55,000 winner's check and was happily posing with spectators.
SURFING: We were really struck today by just how long it is since someone from San Clemente won this contest.
This must be a great moment.
Yeah, it's a dream come true for me. I was around 12 years old when I really became enthusiastic about big waves, but I didn't really get into it till I was about 15, so I always had Brock Little's poster up, every article in the magazines, every movie I could get my hands on I was watching. As a kid, dreaming one day about riding big waves and hopefully being invited to an event like this … just being on the list is the highest honor for me. I've been on the list for three years now and haven't had the opportunity to surf. I haven't actually put that much time in out the Bay. So this last week was amazing. To have a 12 or 15 foot day (on Saturday) to warm up, then yesterday at its biggest, then calming down to a perfect day today … and you know the hospitality that everyone's shown us here is incredible. The spirit of Aloha is alive and well. The last week's been the highlight of my big wave surfing career and of my surfing life.
You and (brother) Rusty do a lot of your surfing away from lots of people, and then coming here today, it's like a rock concert, it's about as viewed an event as you could possibly imagine being a part of. How did that change the surf for you?
Once you're out there in the lineup, everyone on the beach, it's the farthest thing from your mind. When you're on the beach getting ready to go out and you realise, "I gotta get through the shorebreak and paddle out! I'm in the Eddie! Everyone's watching me! I can't puss out!"… After my first heat I had two pretty poor waves and all I was thinking going into the last one was, "I hope there's enough waves for all of us to go round and I want to get one or two big ones." And we got more than our fair share of big ones in that last heat. It was one of the best hours of surfing of my life. We were sitting there looking at these lines feathering out the back, you know, looking at each other going "OK, who's going to go this one?" It was so consistent that you'd end up being there with one or two people, all spread out. Ramon Navarro had a eprfect 100, and Sunny, I saw him take off on one, it was amazing, it must have been close to a perfect 100. Brian Keaulana, I saw him turn around on a massive one. This event really encapsulates what big wave surfing and surfing in general is all about. It's that respect and camaraderie and those friendships you make in the ocean. Being out and sharing it with everybody.
Back to the crowd, though, it kinda adds to the whole competition. Like if you're ever gonna turn around and paddle into a big one, it's now, and I kicked out of that one in the last heat and heard everyone erupting, and the anticipation leading up to that wave, seeing the set feathering out the back, and having to hold my ground, not paddling too far out, kicking out was a pretty special moment.
It's a big part of surfing Waimea, just holding your ground – seeing the set feathering, thinking you should paddle out, but no, you shouldn't. That's the psyche of Waimea, isn't it.
Yeah. It really goes against all your psychological instincts. You see a set feathering like that, your natural survival instinct is to paddle as far out and into the channel as you can, but there's a real fine line to paddling far enough out to be there and paddling too far out to give yourself a chance to catch it. I surfed yesterday morning for a few hours and there were those sets that were feathering, and you sit there waiting, waiting, waiting and going "oh no!" and bailing under massive lines of whitewater, and I had a couple of flashbacks of that – but I'd been studying every heat and hadn't seen one that really closed out. Everybody had their lineups from the last day or so and I stayed with them and was lucky that a couple of ones came my way.
You were really alone with that 100, weren't you. Nobody else was around.
Yeah. It was just one set after the next. I know some guys had taken waves in the sets before that. I paddled out, I'd had one really fun wave to start that heat, and I knew my waves from the first heat weren't going to count for much in the big picture, so I just waited for the biggest and best waves I could find. And I think there were enough in that heat to go round for everyone in every heat in the whole contest! You don't get too many opportunities like that.
What do you do now?
I think definitely we're gonna be celebrating tonight. I've had my share of phone calls from home, Mavericks is gonna be going off tomorrow and Thursday, Todos is gonna be going off tomorrow and Thursday. But I'm just gonna take it one day at a time, right? That's all we've been doing this week. One swell at a time, one day at a time.