Honolulu, HAWAII (December 15, 2004) – Twenty-five year-old Kauai surfer Bruce Irons made his way out of the shadow of world champion brother Andy today, by winning surfing’s most prestigious big wave event, the Quiksilver In Memory Of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational at Waimea Bay, Hawaii.
The younger of the famous Irons brothers, Bruce pushed the limits way beyond his wildest childhood dreams, tackling waves that exceeded 40 feet (12m) in height to finish first in a field of 24 world class big wave riders, including his brother. His victory, in the 20th anniversary Quiksilver Eddie, gave rise to the most satisfying and meaningful of his career to date, also earning him US$55,000. He became only the seventh surfer to win the event as it can only run when the surf hits a consistent minimum of 20 feet.
“This is greater than I could ever have imagined,” said Irons. “It’s every bit as big as it looked in all the videos and pictures I saw growing up. To ride the biggest waves of my life, to win a contest in the name of Eddie Aikau, a hero we’ve all grown up with, I don’t know. I just don’t know what to say.”
The morning offered the most perfect conditions Waimea is capable of delivering; glassy-smooth waves that pulsed consistently in the range of 25 to 40 feet (8-12m). By afternoon, all that had changed was a slight decrease in swell size to 20 to 25 feet. The wave of the day, Bruce’s perfect 100, started out with a critical take-off on a massive 35-foot wave, followed by several arcing turns, and ending on the heaving inside shore-break with a bone-crunching, close-out tube ride with arms held high.
“At first I was thinking oh, oh, oh no, but then I just went, no way, I’m going for it,” said Irons. The crowd on the beach was calling out for Bruce to back-off, but erupted into cheers and whistles as he flung his arms high and tackled the 12-foot close out barrel like a head-on car crash.
Only the day was bigger than Irons’ performance. A record crowd in excess of 20,000 overflowed the famous sands of Waimea Bay, lining roadsides, hillsides, and bringing traffic on the north shore of Oahu to a standstill for most of the day. The spectacle: the world’s best big wave riders hurtling down mountains of Pacific blue under cloudless skies. To top off the day, Quiksilver CEO Bob McKnight announced an on-the-spot prize-money increase of 40 per cent, taking the total to US$122,000.
The format for the event was two rounds of four one-hour heats, six surfers in each heat. Each surfer could ride a maximum four waves in each round, and at the end of the day, their best four waves were totaled – the highest scorer deemed the winner. Counting a perfect 100-point ride in his total, Bruce scored 370 points out of a possible 400. His other three rides came in at 99, 88, and 83 points.
Behind Irons, former event champion Ross Clarke-Jones of Australia placed second (338 points, US$12,000), “It’s always disappointing to lose, but Bruce thoroughly deserved the win today. He scored a perfect score of 100 and a loss would have been very tough for him,” Clarke-Jones said.
Big Island’s Shane Dorian (Haw) was third (331 points, US$7,000), Andy Irons was fourth (329 points, US$5,000), Northern California’s Peter Mel was fifth (327 points, US$4,000), and defending event champion Kelly Slater (Florida) was sixth (291 points, US$3,000). All surfers placed seventh through 24th received US$2,000 each.
Peter Mel put in a brilliant performance to place fifth after flying in from northern California just two days ago. Known for both his paddle-in and tow-in big wave exploits, Mel claimed that there’s nothing more skillful and difficult than tackling a huge ocean under man-power alone.
“Tow-in is a cakewalk in comparison,” said Mel. “Taking the drop using your own two arms is by far way gnarlier. The hairiest moment is when you first see that wave coming, having to sit in the spot and wanting so hard to run to the channel. It’s definitely about mental strength.
“But more than anything, an event like this is all about sharing the moment and seeing everyone push themselves further than they thought they could. When I saw Andy go on a huge wave in our heat, I remembered it. Just to see him nail a late drop and make it, then kick out with a big grin on his face… I remembered that. It’s what this is all about.”
There were two representatives in today’s competition from the Aikau family – 51-year-old Clyde Aikau, Eddie’s youngest brother, and 32-year-old nephew Zane Aikau, showing just how much of a tradition and culture big wave riding is to this pure-blooded Hawaiian family.
“This event honors my brother and from a family perspective it’s really humbling to think that all these people came out to honor him,” said Clyde. “Guaranteed, I think Eddie’s up there smiling – 20 to 30 years later, people still know who he is. He was a real humble guy himself and I know he’s up there saying ‘good job guys’.”
Eddie Aikau was the North Shore of Oahu’s first lifeguard, watching over the Bay when he wasn’t charging the biggest waves of the winter. Tragically, he lost his life in 1978, at the age of 33, during a re-creation of the Polynesian voyage between Hawaii and Tahiti. In huge seas, the voyaging canoe Hokule’a was capsized. Eddie paddled off in an attempt to reach help for his fellow crewmen. While he was never physically seen again, his spirit has lived on to touch the lives of many – surfers, big wave riders, and those who simply appreciate the ocean.
1. Bruce Irons (Haw) 370; 2. Ross Clarke-Jones (Aus) 338; 3. Shane Dorian (Haw) 331; 4. Andy Irons (Haw) 329; 5. Peter Mel (USA) 327; 6. Kelly Slater (USA) 291; 7. Michael Ho (Haw) 264; 8. Titus Kinimaka (Haw) 262; 9. Noah Johnson (Haw) 258; 10. Paul Paterson (Aus) 255; 11. Rusty Keaulana (Haw) 252; 12. Jamie Sterling (Haw) 250; 13. Clyde Aikau (Haw) 249; 14. Myles Padaca (Haw) 236; 15. Tony Moniz (Haw) 234; 16. Pancho Sullivan (Haw) 227; 17. Ross Williams (Haw) 217; 18. Makua Rothman (Haw) 214; 19. Mark Healey (Haw) 214; 20. Tony Ray (Aus) 207; 21. Daryl “Flea” Virostko (USA) 194; 22. Brian Keaulana (Haw) 176; 23. Zane Aikau (Haw) 149; 24. John Gomes (Haw) 142.