|Dave Wassel (right) and Aussie Ross Clarke-Jones going for it.|
The attraction of big-wave surfing has as much to do with its rarity as its race-car thrill rides.
It takes some kind of natural turbulence in a far away body of water to create the kind of momentum needed for a huge groundswell by the time it collides with land masses in its way.
|Grant Twiggy Baker of South Africa is captured in risky tumble on 45-foot wave.|
This winter of El Nino weather patterns has offered one of the most memorable surfing seasons in a long while. It has brought a bountiful harvest to the famed big-wave locales, where fearless watermen and women dance across supercharged walls of water.
Two weeks after a successful run at Mavericks near Half Moon Bay, California, the granddaddy of big-wave contests unfolded at Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu.
The Eddie Aikau invitational went off for the first time in six years, and only the ninth occasion in its 31-year history of an event less a competition than a celebration.
Waimea is the original big-wave locale, but it takes just the right swell -- direction and size are integral factors in whether it's worthy -- before surfers paddle into the pit.
Thursday produced one of those epic days
It proved chaotic for the competitors who risked life and limb to charge into the watery forest. Like at Mavericks two weeks earlier, the event experienced its share of spills and chills, and eventually was won by the new generation surfer.
Hawaiian John John Florence, 23, rode four big ones to collect a score of 301 points. He and runner-up Ross Clarke-Jones of Australia overtook Hawaiian legend Shane Dorian in the final heat. Dorian ended third whereas the Michael Jordan of surfing, Kelly Slater, finished fifth.
|Legendary Kelly Slater on a clean monster at Waimea Bay.|
The fascinating aspect of big-wave surfing is the age disparity among competitors. Clyde Aikau, whose brother bears the contest's name, is 66. Clyde was 20th out of 28 competitors. Australian Tom Carroll, 54, was 27th.
Clyde is a constant reminder of what big-wave surfing is all about, what his brother Eddie was all about: sharing the passion of the ocean lifestyle.
"We are humbled and privileged," Clyde Aikau told reporters afterward.
Eddie Aikau was known as a waterman's waterman. The Hawaiian lifeguard patrolled the shoreline of Oahu’s North Shore to keep others safe, then tested the boundaries by paddling into the biggest waves when Waimea awoke from its long hibernation.
In 1978, Aikau met his death on the high seas while trying to trace the 2,500-mile route of Polynesian ancestors from Hawaii to Tahiti paddling a hollowed out voyaging canoe. The canoe got a leak in one of its hulls and capsized in turbulent seas about 12 miles from the island of Molokai. Aikau, 31, mounted his surfboard to paddle for help. His body was never found. The rest of the crew, though, survived after getting rescued by the Coast Guard.
The big-wave contest began in 1984 to honor the Hawaiian legend. Surf clothier Quiksilver took it over in recent years to provide an ample prize purse for competitors. Florence won $75,000 for his four massive waves.
But everyone came away with a victory because no matter how big the purse is, no matter how much media attention the contest generates, its heart remains with Eddie Aikau.
|Winner John John Florence takes off deep, with Mason Ho. Florence, 23, won the Eddie on Thursday.|
|James O'Brien and Shane Dorian share the power.|