By Ben Marcus
Rumors spread along the North Shore of Oahu almost as fast as wildfires spread through Sonoma County, and in the days following the official declaration that the Quiksilver Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau was called off, rumors spread as to the who, why, when and how much.
On Sunday, October 7, the Aikau family announced: “When the family declined to surrender control of the Eddie for five years on the terms Quiksilver was demanding, Quiksilver terminated negotiations.”
Quiksilver responded with their own official statement: “Quiksilver has decided that it has run out of time to sponsor the ‘Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau’ big wave surf event for 2017-2018. Quiksilver has been honored to celebrate the life of champion big wave surfer and Waimea Bay lifeguard Eddie Aikau. Quiksilver is proud of the tradition of the event which underlines its respect for Eddie Aikau, the Hawaiian people and the community at large, and Quiksilver greatly appreciates more than 30 years of partnership with the Aikau family.”
Those were the official statements, but the Coconut Wireless had its own take on why this popular big-wave contest that everyone loves was drowning. One long-time North Shore resident who wished to remain anonymous explained the conflict is a mad squabble between two long-time, connected, Hawaiian families: “It’s all about money and control of the contest. There are hard heads on both sides.”
Aikau was never seen again, and five years later, the contest was inaugurated in his honor. The contest is held only on the biggest, most historic days at Waimea Bay, and it has been held only nine times in that 33 years.
But that nine times has produced some of the most epic events in big-wave surfing history. The 1990 contest was held in absolutely giant, perfect, clean Waimea. Brock Little went into the history books by taking off on a giant wave he didn’t make, and also pulled into the barrel on a wave he didn’t make: “My $50,000 mistakes,” Brock called them. At that same event, Kerry Terukina got launched head-first into an appalling wipeout, and survived. The first of many spectacular wipeouts at the Eddie.
Flea Virostko wiped out spectacularly in the 2004 Eddie and got his trunks blown off. Bruce Irons and Michael Ho achieved legend status by riding waves all the way through and pulling into closeouts in the shorebreak. On and on. Death or glory at a contest that is only called on when Waimea is maxing. Nine times since the mid-80s.
But now it looks like the Eddie might be pau, and that will be disappointing for the two dozen invited big-wave surfers, for tens of thousands of Hawaiian residents and visitors who flock to Waimea Bay to watch, and hundreds of thousands of people around the world who watch the event on the Internet.
There is hope on the horizon. A similar situation arose during the winter of 2016/2017, when word went out in October that the Eddie wouldn’t go because of a breakdown in negotiations between the Aikau family, Quiksilver and the World Surf League. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and the contest was announced back on November 28 in the nick of time – a couple of days before the traditional opening ceremonies on December 1.
Which was a good thing, as the ninth running of the contest since 1983/1984 was held during the infamous “Brock Swell” on February 25, 2016 – one week after Brock Little passed away from cancer at the age of 49.
Like Brock, Waimea was big and mean and tricky and nasty and challenging and emotional and difficult on a climate-change fueled winter swell. The Bay kicked the okole of 24 of the world’s best big-wave surfers, and it was local lad John John Florence coming out on top.
Will that happen again this year? A last-minute reprieve in November? According to Quiksilver vice president of sales and marketing Glen Moncata, that is unlikely:
“It just got to the point where there’s 40 days left,” Moncata said. “We just can’t do that, so we basically said we’re not going to negotiate this year, but in the future for the 2018 and 2019, we’ll be happy to sit down with them and try to work something out.”
But hang in there. Hawaiian politics are funny (See: Rail Transit Project, the Maui Ferry). Alliances and allegiances change like clouds across the sun. Happenings happen with their own rhythm out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. No one wants to see the contest cancelled, especially with the north Pacific going lolo as it has been the past few years.
Don’t be surprised – but be glad – if cooler heads prevail again, and a last-minute agreement is made, and the Eddie from pau to wow!