Eddie Aikau Memorial: Surfing stars chase big waves in Hawaii

Story highlights

  • Eddie Aikau big-wave invitational began in 1984
  • Honors Hawaiian lifeguard who was lost at sea
  • His brother is one of eight winners in 30 years

(CNN)Every year the world's top board riders wait patiently for the right conditions to honor one of the most revered names in Hawaiian surfing history.

The rarity makes it all the more special -- only eight times in the past three decades has the competition been staged, and not since 2009.
From December 1, there is a three-month window for the prestigious invitational event, officially known as the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau, as the board riders anticipate the required minimum 20-foot waves.
    Aikau, a native Hawaiian big-wave surfer, was lost at sea in 1978, having volunteered to go for help when a canoe trip seeking to recreate an ancient Polynesian migration hit bad weather.
    Waves were estimated to have peaked at 40 feet for the Eddie Aikau event in December 2004.
    He was the first official lifeguard on the North Shore of Oahu, and spent much time at Waimea Bay -- a deceptively idyllic setting for deadly waves that put off most surfers until the late 1950s.
    "It was surfing's equivalent to Columbus reaching the new world," according to Sam George, who directed a documentary about Aikau.
    The memorial competition began in 1984, and Aikau's younger brother Clyde won its second staging in 1986-87 using one of his late sibling's old boards.
    "Eddie is the only guy I know of that had a big smile on his face when he would be dropping down these 30-feet monster waves," Clyde says in "The Big Wave Riders of Hawaii," a new book celebrating 30 years of "the Eddie."
    It features images by French photographer Bernard Testemale made with 19th-century wet-plate collodion techniques (see gallery at top of story).
    Six surfers drop into a wave during pre-contest surfing at the Eddie Aikau Big-Wave Invitational in 2009.
    "Eddie's legacy is there to inspire the next generation to do great things and to do great things for others," his brother says in the book.
    "You may not have to give your life to save someone, but helping other people is what Eddie's all about."
    Clyde Aikau is one of six past winners in the 27-man invitee list for the 31st staging, along with surfing legend Kelly Slater (2001-02), Greg Long (2009-10), Bruce Irons (2004-05), Ross Clarke-Jones (2000-01) and Noah Johnson (1998-99).