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December 4, 2016


The Skies Part for the Eddie Aikau Opening Ceremony at Waimea Bay – December 1, 2016

Defending champion John John Florence addresses his fellow invitees and the crowd at the opening ceremony for the Eddie. Photo: Anthony Olegario.

The opening ceremony for the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational is always a special day – solemn, macho, Hawaiian, colorful, beautiful (and free grinds). Going back to 1990 I’ve attended quite a few of the opening ceremonies. Not all of them, but some of them.

The best one was in 2007, I think it was. Eddie Vedder was there milling about with all the surf stars and civilians. I chatted with him and asked: “Who are the most musical people?” In my experience it’s the Irish and Brazilians, but Eddie said: “The South Americans, because they sing the guitar solos.”

After the ceremony, Pearl Jam played a live set in Pikake Pavilion, up in the Waimea Valley. They rocked the house, to a crowd of a couple hundred people. During that show I videoed Eddie Vedder playing ukulele and singing “Soon Forget.”

That’s not a night I will forget any time soon.

But that was 2007 and this is now.

And now, this year, the opening ceremony almost didn’t happen. But, just in time – on November 23 – Quiksilver and the Aikau family announced they had come to an agreement that would allow the contest to continue. It would have been a shame to cancel it, and end a long tradition of solemn, macho, Hawaiian, colorful, beautiful big-wave surfing that goes back to 1985 and included many magic moments: from Brock Little’s over the falls bomb and tuberide in 1990, Michael Ho and Bruce Irons kamikaze shooting the shorebreak and all the way to the Brock Swell last year, when an angry Waimea Bay opened a can of whupass on the world’s best big-wave surfers – but Happy John John flowed right through it, and came out smiling.

The official announcement read like this:

“We are proud to see the tradition of The Eddie continue without interruption, a testament to our respect for Eddie Aikau, the Aikau family, the Hawaiian people, and the community at large. We are very grateful for the efforts and support of the Aikau family and the World Surf League under the leadership of Paul Speaker who have all worked very hard with our team over the past few weeks to come up with a solution,” said Pierre Agnes, Quiksilver’s CEO. “Consistent with Quiksilver and the Aikau family’s wishes, we are pleased to confirm that the same stringent condition requirements we instituted when we inaugurated The Eddie 31 years ago will continue this year. We have every confidence that WSL’s greater involvement in the event this year will only improve The Eddie’s reputation as one of the world’s premier surfing contests.”

Just in time, Quiksilver and the Aikau family came to that agreement.

John Philbin - aka Turtle fro mthe movie North Shore - sends long-distance greetings to a French Canadian fan.

On December 1, I drove to the North Shore from Waikiki with Anthony Olegario and Anya Tarasenko. The surf was small along the North Shore and the weather was ooky – gray and gloomy and Seattle-like.

North Shore was cold. Like, sweatshirt weather cold.

Arriving at Waimea Bay around 2:00, under the tent I found Peter Mel and Mark Cunningham going over their notes, rehearsing their lines and strategizing how they would MC the event. We were under the tent but getting wet. It started raining hard between 2:00 and 3:00, sending everyone under the tent, and causing a bit of concern about getting everyone standing outside with their boards and their lei and going through with the ceremony in a timely fashion so everyone could come back and grind.

But, just in time, the rain stopped and the clouds parted and the invited surfers and alternates grouped together on the grass wearing their lei and holding their big-wave guns: blessed by Hawaiian kahu, serenaded by Hawaiian men blowing conch shells, photographed by hundreds of different hands, there on the grass between a beautiful volcanic valley and the deep blue sea.

A conch shell serenade during the opening ceremony for the 2016-2017 Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational.

Speeches, songs, vibes. By the time the surfers and the crowd walked down the beach to paddle out, the clouds had parted, the sun was out, the sky was blue, the Bay was Golden Hour beautiful.

The surfers all paddled out escorted by swimmers and PWC. Unknown what they said out there, but it was nice to watch it all from the beach, as the sun set over Kaena Point.

Usually there is some kind of surf barely breaking on the reef at Waimea, which allows for a [email protected]#%## of the world’s best surfers to all take off on the same wave and cause all kinds of chaos and destruction.

Not this year. There were a couple guys surfing small Pinballs, but nothing beyond that.

As the party was winding down, Kelly Slater took time to grab a swag bag from his former employer, and pose with an adoring fan.

The surfers came back in, showered off and then everyone sat down to grind Hawaiian plates and listen to music, talk story, compare notes, catch up with friends and just enjoy the solemn, macho, Hawaiian, colorful glow at the mouth of a beautiful volcanic valley and the deep blue sea, accompanied by two dozen of the world’s best big-wave surfers.

At some point I saw John John Florence, briefly not being accosted by a dozen people, so I accosted him.

I asked: “Who’s gonna win this thing?”

John John said: “One of us.”

John John poses for the 10 millionth photo taken of him in one day at the opening ceremony for the 2016 Quiksilver Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational.



Aaron Gold
Bruce Irons
Billy Kemper
Dave Wassel
Ezekiel Lau
Garrett McNamara
Grant Baker
Greg Long
Ian Walsh
Jamie Mitchell
Jamie O’Brien
Jeremy Flores
John John Florence
Kala Alexander
Kelly Slater
Koa Rothman
Kohl Christensen
Landon McNamara
Makua Rothman
Mark Healey
Mason Ho
Michael Ho
Reef McIntosh
Ross Clarke-Jones
Shane Dorian
Sunny Garcia
Takayuki Wakita
Tom Carroll

ALTERNATIVE LIST (in order of invitation)
Luke Shepardson
Kai Lenny
Nathan Fletcher
Noah Johnson
Nathan Florence
Ramon Navarro
Kealii Mamala
Pedro Calado
Jamie Sterling
Nic Lamb
Keala Kennelly
Danilo Couto
Mark Mathews
Kalani Chapman
Ben Wilkinson
Gabriel Villaran
Damien Hobgood
Kahea Hart
Ryan Hipwood
Carlos Burle
Kyle Shipman
Danny Fuller
Anthony Tashnick
Rusty Long

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