Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau, The
Professional big-wave surf contest held at Waimea Bay, Hawaii; by far the most prestigious event of its kind, held in honor of Eddie Aikau, the revered pure-blooded Hawaiian big-wave master who died in a 1978 boating accident.
The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau was conceived and developed by Quiksilver marketing chiefs Danny Kwock and Jeff Hakman, along with CEO Bob McKnight and Aikau family friend Eddie Rothman. "The Eddie," as it's usually called, wasn't initially planned as a big-wave contest, and the mostly-forgotten inaugural was held in 1984 in six to eight-foot surf at Sunset Beach, with Hawaiian surfer Denton Miyamura taking the $5,000 first-place check.
The contest was retooled the following year into a Waimea speciality event. Thirty surfers were invited, and the minimum wave-height requirement was set at 20 feet, as determined by newly hired event director and Hawaiian big-wave pioneer George Downing. Waimea, at that point the world's most famous big-wave break, had been Eddie Aikau's favorite spot, and he was the best rider there from the mid-'60s until his death. Surf contests had previously been held at Waimea—including the 1974 Smirnoff, the 1980 Duke Classic, and the 1985 Billabong Pro—but in each case the decision to run at Waimea had been made spontaneously.
Big-wave riding was coming back into vogue in the mid-'80s after a 15-year low period, and the 1986 Quiksilver contest encouraged the trend. The Waimea surf was 25 feet, give or take, rough and windblown. Surfers were divided into three groups, and each 10-man heat rode for an hour; the process was repeated, but with 45-minute heats, and each contestant's first- and second-round scores were combined for a final tally. The contest ended in a draw between Mark Foo (who coined the phrase "Eddie Would Go" during the event) and 36-year-old Clyde Aikau, Eddie's younger brother, with Aikau winning on a tiebreaker. Ken Bradshaw finished third. Clyde rode a 10-year-old board that had belonged to Eddie. (Aikau rode in each subsequent Quiksilver-Eddie event until 2016 when, at age 66, he announced his retirement.)
For three years, the surf at Waimea didn't meet the minimum Quiksilver-Eddie requirement. The 1990 version of the event, however, was magnificent—"A monumental day in surfing history," as described by Australia's Surfing Life magazine—with smooth-faced waves up to 30 feet. Hawaiian surfer Brock Little rode inside the tube on one wave, not long after taking a spectacular wipeout on the day's biggest wave, but Keone Downing—George Downing's son—was the most consistent performer and took the $55,000 winner's check, the richest prize in surfing history up to that point. Little was second; Richard Schmidt of Santa Cruz finished third.
In years to come, new developments in big-wave surfing—the discovery of breaks like Maverick's, Jaws, and Cortes Bank; the introduction of other big-wave contests—reduced the impact of the Quiksilver-Eddie. In the early '00s, in fact, the event was relegated to back-page status in the surf magazines. With the resurgence of paddle-in big-wave surfing in the mid-'00s, however, the Quiksilver-Eddie also made a comeback, and Greg Long's come-from-behind win in the 2009 contest was one of the year's greatest competitive moments.
The Quiksilver-Eddie is a non-rated contest, meaning the results do not count toward the world championship.
Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau results:
1984: Denton Miyamura
1986: Clyde Aikau
1990: Keone Downing
1999: Noah Johnson
2001: Ross Clarke-Jones
2002: Kelly Slater
2004: Bruce Irons
2009: Greg Long
2016: John John Florence