Apparently, Eddie wouldn't go after all.
As the cars lined up Tuesday night on Kam Highway in Oahu, jockeying for position just to watch the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau on Wednesday, the anticipation reverberated throughout Waimea Valley.
This event was set to put the exclamation point on a historic El Nino winter of waves. But the call was made yesterday: No go on the Eddie.
The kind of swell needed (35-40-foot faces) to run this event has only materialized eight times in the 31-year history of this contest. But you can’t flip through social media this winter without seeing some kind of monster drop, which has us almost numb to waves that were considered unrideable a decade ago.
It begs the question: Does Waimea have the same mystique it once had?
Proper Waimea was first ridden in the late 1950s. For decades after, it was touted as the big-wave and longstanding benchmark by which all other waves were measured.
But there were many different kinds of big waves, like the shifty beach break at Puerto Escondido of Mainland Mexico. Then, in the 1990s, Mavericks, in Northern California, and Todos Santos, off the Baja Peninsula, came into sharp focus, followed by waves that were much heavier, like Teahupoo in Tahiti.
Tow-in surfing opened up a new world of big surf — Cortez Bank in the middle of the Pacific, Shipstern's Bluff in Tasmania, Nazare in Portugal, and Pe'ahi (Jaws) over on Maui.
Now, with the focus back on paddle-in surfing, the World Surf League has a dedicated Big Wave Tour, featuring venues like Dungeons in South Africa, Punta de Lobos, Chile, Punta Galea in Spain, Pico Alto in Peru, and Nelscott Reef in Oregon, as well as Jaws and Mavericks.
So, with all of these heavy-water venues around the world, how does Waimea Bay stack up in 2016? Has it lost some of its luster to these more recently conquered big-wave spots? Or do we still have a spark for that dramatic drop in one of the most beautiful places in the world?
“Every spot has its own challenges,” explains Peter Mel, who is not only the WSL World Championship Tour broadcaster who conducts interviews while sitting on his board in the channel at WCT events, but was also the 2012 Big Wave World Tour Champion and won at Mavericks before becoming Commissioner of the Big Wave World Tour and a longtime Eddie invitee.
“But Waimea is such a confined area, there's so much water ripping back out, it makes it seem like every drop you're barely going to make it. It jumps up so fast,” says Mel.
As he explains, Waimea may not have the “wow factor” it once had because the wave isn't physically as tall as places like Jaws, as expansive as Cortez Bank or as slabby as Mavericks. But don’t let that fool you.
“It's not like you can pop in and surf a big swell at Waimea because you just surfed Jaws. The shore break alone is scary. You can very easily wind up in the Coffin Corner,” says Mel. “And anywhere else, you see a set wave coming a mile away and you paddle out to it. But at Waimea, you have to hold your ground or you won't be able to get it. It takes some balls to do that.”
The short answer is yes, this is still a wave of major consequence for the most courageous surfers in the world. Waimea doesn't play around.
Now we have until Feb. 29 to see if any Eddie-sized swell materializes before the waiting period is over.
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