Under sunny skies and in clean 25- to 30-foot surf that nearly closed out Waimea Bay, big-wave riding's current superhero, 26-year-old Greg Long, cemented his legend with a come-from-behind win over Kelly Slater today at the prestigious Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau--probably big-wave surfing's most sought-after trophy.
"I'm humble to even be in this event," Long said on stage, with waves still thundering in the background. "I've really had a passion for big waves since I was 15 years old, and I've probably watched every single Chicken Skin Quiksilver movie, and those guys were my absolute heroes growing up--posters on my walls. So to be recognized amongst them is a dream come true for me… It was such a magical day."
The Eddie is a unique competition designed to run in one eight-hour day of competing--it features 28 invitees organized into four one-hour heats of seven surfers, with each heat paddling out once in the morning and a second time in the afternoon, the scores of their four best waves added together for their overall score. In true Waimea aloha fashion, multiple surfers are allowed to take off on a wave, and most of the immense right-handers ridden today had between two and four surfers careening down their faces.
Though he went into the event a favorite, with wins in just about every paddle-in big-wave event on the planet, Long had a disappointing first-round showing, especially when compared to Slater's seemingly unbeatable first round total of 290 points out of a possible 400.
Slater's morning heroics included a fully committed barrel-ride on a 20-plus-footer that shut down on him, as well as a huge solo effort he took all the way to the shorebreak, where the crowd of thousands lining the beach and surrounding cliffs went wild. The latter earned him a near-perfect 98 points out of a possible 100.
Ross Clarke-Jones, Sunny Garcia, 2004 Eddie winner Bruce Irons, and first-time Eddie invitee Reef McIntosh from Kauai were other Round One standouts.
"In the lineup I was telling Clyde [Aikau] how great an event this is, and how stoked I am to be invited to compete in it," McIntosh said on the beach. "I just wanted to put in a good performance. Compared to yesterday, it's like Disneyland out there, and with the water patrol there, you can just huck yourself off anything."
Monday saw slightly bigger waves and less-than-favorable weather conditions lash Waimea Bay, producing some incredible moments (including a wave that North Shore local and fellow Eddie invitee Makua Rothman called his "biggest ever" at the Bay) as well as some fear among event officials that deciding not to run the event was a mistake. But Tuesday, competitors--many of whom were at the contest site an hour before sun up--were greeted by sunshine and cool offshore winds, as well as a slightly diminished but still fully contestable swell.
"My boyfriend and I are on vacation, and we just happened to end up here on the North Shore just as the contest was beginning," said Seattle's Jennifer Wallis, who had found a comfy seat on the cliff above the paddle-out corner. "We feel so lucky."
Feeling lucky wasn't just reserved for the spectators who jammed traffic for miles, making parking with a 30-minute walk of "the Bay" nearly impossible to find. Even to hardened North Shore locals the Eddie is a bit of an enigma, running only nine times since its inception a quarter century ago--the most recent being in 2004 when Bruce Irons pulled into a cavernous shorebreak barrel that's still reverberating through the surf world.
The reason for the infrequency of the Eddie is its sole prerequisite for running--a solid swell that will produce a full day of at least 20-foot surf (that's "Hawaiian 20-foot," which means about double that on the face). But despite the long lulls between events, Quiksilver President Bob McKnight has stood firmly behind the Eddie, which he sees as integral to Quiksilver as a brand.
Monster Drop Winner Ramon Navarro.
"Sometimes you stick to your core," an elated McKnight said after the event. "Like in sales, Quiksilver tries to stick to its core market and core products, and this contest is similar. It's got to have good surfing, safe conditions, and most importantly, big waves. I was nervous last night that we might have missed an opportunity to run it, but we decided that today we gotta go. So we went."
It may sound like a scripted corporate line, but consider that Quiksilver has just endured four consecutive years of unfortunate luck with swells and very little return on their investment in both the event and the community, and yet they return every year. Their long-term commitment to the Eddie regardless of surf has made it surfing's holy grail, and McKnight couldn't hide the joy he was feeling after what must surely be considered an extremely successful event.
"Thanks so much for coming," he said after I shut my recorder off and we shook hands. "I'm stoked. I'm so stoked."
When Round Two hit the water an ebbing tide had already caused some lengthy lulls in action, but the occasional bomb elicited some great surfing from Andy Irons, Kala Alexander, Jamie O'Brien, Mark Healy, and Grant "Twiggy" Baker, Greg Long's training/towing partner and close personal friend, who was also a favorite going into the event due in large part to his fearless approach to big-wave paddle-ins.
"I feel just like I won it," said Twiggy. "Obviously I didn't, but we've been through so much together the last five years as a team, and we've both been working to get into this contest. We never dreamed for a second either of us could win it, but that has been our goal. I'm so happy for Greg. He's 26 years old, and he's the greatest ever. He's won Mavericks, Dungeons, Peru, and now the Eddie. It's just incredible."
It seems to be the case more and more that when waves of consequence become competitive arenas, Greg Long wins the day. With less than 40 minutes left in the event, Long hooked into only the second-ever "Perfect 100" score in the Eddie's history, dropping into a beast of a wave that closed out the entire Bay (shortly thereafter Ramon Navarro added a third). It was short but sweet, and the rest is history. Long hoisted the $55,000 check, then brought Twiggy and shaper Chris Christenson on stage for a hug, while his peers on stage looked genuinely over the moon that one of surfing's most dynamic talents had ousted Slater in waves that humble even the craziest among us.
1. Greg Long 323 points $55,000
2. Kelly Slater 313 points $10,000
3. Sunny Garcia 292 points $5,000
4. Bruce Irons 275 points $3,000
5. Ramon Navarro 267 points $2,000
Monster Big Drop Award ($10,000)