Big waves to deliver the eddy of a series of Hawaiian surf competitions

HONOLULU (AP) — One of the world’s most prestigious and prestigious surfing competitions is expected to be held in Hawaii on Sunday for the first time in seven years.

And this year, women surfers will compete against the men for the first time in the 39-year history of The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational.

The event — alternatively known simply as The Eddie — is a one-day race in Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore that takes place only when the surf is consistently large during the winter season, from mid-December to mid-March. The wind, tide and direction of the swell must also be correct.

“Large” means 20 feet (6 meters) in Hawaiian measurements. This equates to about 40 feet (12 meters) when measured by the methods used in the rest of the U.S. Prior to this year, conditions had been adjusted so that the race had only been held nine times since its inception in 1984.

Organizer Clyde Aikau said at a news conference Friday that he was expecting waves to reach 25-30 feet (7.6-9 meters) in Hawaii, or 50-60 feet (15-18 meters) nationwide.

“Yes, Eddie will go on Sunday,” he said.

Other places around the world have big wave surfing events: Mavericks in California, Nazre in Portugal and Phi Phi on the Hawaiian island of Maui. But what sets The Eddie apart, author Stuart Coleman says, is how he honors Eddy Aikau, a native Hawaiian known for his selflessness, courage and sacrifice.

“What makes this tournament so special is the memory of a man who transcended his time and place when he lived,” Coleman wrote in his autobiography, “Eddie Would Go.”

Edward Rion Makuahanai Aikau gained notoriety as the first lifeguard hired by Honolulu to work on Oahu’s North Shore, and was credited with saving more than 500 lives during his career. He is famous for riding high waves that no one else dares to ride.

Aikau died in 1978 at the age of 31 on a trip from Honolulu to Tahiti in a traditional Polynesian sailing canoe. Within hours of leaving port, the huge double-sided canoe known as the Hokulia took on water and capsized in the waves. Aikau volunteered to row several miles to the nearby island of Lanai to get help from the rest of the crew.

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued the remaining crew a few hours later after being alerted by a commercial airliner that spotted the tanker.

Coleman says The Eddy is about big wave surfing and the best of Hawaiian culture.

“They always say at the opening ceremony where they gather to start the season, “This is not just a competition. We are not fighting each other. We’re riding the spirit of Eddie,” Coleman said.

This year, organizers invited 40 competitors and 18 alternates from around the world, including Kelly Slater, who has won 11 world surfing titles. John John Florence, who hails from the North Shore and won two back-to-back World Cups, was asked to join.

Kawai’s Keala Kennelly, the women’s big wave surfing champion, is among the female guests.

Mindy Pennybaker, Honolulu Star-Advertiser surf columnist and author of the forthcoming book “Surfing Sister Hood Hawaii: Wahine Recycling the Waves,” has long assumed Waimea was too dangerous for women to surf there.

She had to fight for inclusion and in the meantime they have shown that they can handle big waves in places around the world.

“To see women — not just women at Waimea, but women and men sharing the same event with respect and equality — I’m excited about the idea,” Pennybacker said.

The race is expected to draw tens of thousands of spectators to the two-lane highway that runs through the North Shore and the small towns that line the coastal community.

North Shore Neighborhood Board Chair Kathleen Pahinui said it would be good for businesses, restaurants and shops. She urged visitors to take a car and take the bus as the roads would be congested.

“I wish all the participants the best of luck,” she said.

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