An Excerpt From Hawaii's Biggest Surf Day

The Wind Shifts, As Does The Surf

An Excerpt From Hawaii's Biggest Surf Day

[This is an excerpt from an article that was completely butchered when it ran in a travel weekly newspaper two winters ago. With the start of the winter swells this week on the North Shore--and the big surf buzz in the air--we thought it appropriate to offer mainlanders a taste of what's in store during the coming months. Enjoy.]

It was a sunny, warm December morning like any other here on Oahu. The fog had lifted by 7 A.M. as I was driving my truck along Kamehameha Highway--the two-lane road that traverses Oahu's famed North Shore. I passed Pipeline and Sunset Beaches, two bays that 6 months before I was floating listlessly in with snorkel mask and fins, looking at reef fish and coral. Now, there were 40-foot waves pounding the beach, and you wouldn't catch me standing in the sand 5 feet off-shore--and I have been surfing for years.

As the ground rumbled with each massive wave, I began to see a site that looked more like old footage of people walking to Woodstock. Rows of cars lined the side of the road. Most were pickup trucks, Volkswagen buses, or ratty little hatchbacks who's surf racks probably cost more than the cars beneath them. People were walking along the roadside, cups of coffee in hand, towards the third and final bay on the North Shore--Waimea. This was no summer concert; this was to be a day of unparalleled performance by Mother Nature herself.

Today--in the midst of Van's Triple Crown of Surfing--it is the day of the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational contest. Here's how it works: From Dec. 5-25 of each year (or thereabouts, it varies slightly each year), "The Eddie" (as it is known) is held when the waves reach heights too big and dangerous for the other 3 contests to be held. The measurement is an unofficial 30+ feet, from top to bottom of the front of a wave. Today, the waves are far exceeding this amount.

30 surfers are chosen by the Eddie organizers, and surf in 6 heats of 5 surfers. They paddle out from Waimea Beach--where over 5,000 people who heard the thunder clap of the waves (and the radio reports) the night before have ditched work, school, etc., in order to watch a nearly inhuman feat. Men no bigger than me paddle 9 to 12 foot pieces of glassed Styrofoam in to waves that, on this day, will reach almost 60 feet. That is the size of a six-story building--which is moving at speeds of 40 mph and collapsing with enough force to drive you just as far underwater, if not further. It is, essentially, a ride that could easily end in death.

I sit calmly on a towel in the sand, and watch a man named Bruce Irons, who happens to be the younger brother of the surfer expected to win the contest, paddle in to what has to be the largest wave I might ever see surfed. He drops straight off the lip of the curling wave--an easy 30 feet--part of which he skips over the water and is literally flying through the air, somehow magically connected to the surfboard at his feet. He hits the water about 40 feet down the wave, and still has another 20 feet to carve out a long bottom turn. At this point, every single one of the 5,000-plus people on the beach are standing on their feet, as am I. Some are screaming. Some gasp for air. Some, like me, are breathless, with a look plastered to their faces that reads "There is no way this is happening."

Bruce Irons surfs one of the largest waves in tournament history, and goes home with an extra $100,000 that afternoon. In what I try to explain to friends back east as "the most incredible display of professional athleticism I have ever seen," I decide his 100 grand is well-earned.

Entrance to all Triple Crown events and the Eddie are free. Log on to www.triplecrownofsurfing.com for more information.