Interview with Jodi Wilmott: Eddie Aikau, the World’s Most Interesting Surf Competition

The Eddie Aikau is a sacred and special event that almost seems like a ritual more than a surfing competition. The people who work and ride the event are honoring Eddie with every passing swell. Why is he such a big deal? Eddie was the first official lifeguard at Waimea Bay, on Oahu’s famous North Shore. He quickly became known as the best big wave surfer in town, and not a soul was lost while he was on duty. During a cultural expedition on a Polynesian canoe, the canoe capsized. After a treacherous night adrift, Aikau paddles off on his board in search of help for his stranded crew. He was never seen again despite the fact that Hawaii launched the largest search and rescue mission in its history. Panama Jack was fortunate enough to have an interview with Jodi Wilmott of Ocean Promotion to shed some light on this spectacular competition for us mainlanders.

Panama Jack: How did the Eddie Aikau get started? when is it held?

Jodi Wilmontt: In the winter of 1985/86, the inaugural “Eddie” contest was held at Sunset Beach where Eddie had won the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational in 1977. The event moved to Waimea Bay the next year. It was the collective idea of a number of Eddie’s friends on the North Shore.

PJ: When is the Eddie Aikau held, and how big do the waves have to be?

JW: It is only held during winters when one full day of waves in the 20-foot-plus range (wave face heights in excess of 40 feet) and contestable conditions presents itself. The holding period is December 1 through February 28 each winter.

PJ: Are the surfers scared of surfing big waves?

JW: Of course. I recall Kelly Slater saying in 2009 that if you’re not scared, then it isn’t true Eddie size. That’s why the wave height requirement is what it is…. the whole game changes when it kicks up to 20 feet and above. That was when Eddie’s juices started flowing at Waimea–less than 20 feet and he’d prefer to sit on his surfboard in the channel and watch over the safety of other riders. It takes a certain kind of mind-set and athlete to manage the instinctual fears at that point and enjoy the challenge.

PJ: What does it take to become a pro surfer?

JW: It’s worth noting that not all invitees and alternates to the Eddie are pro surfers. Some are just dedicated big wave free surfers who are known to be among the best big wave riders in the world. Becoming a pro surfer requires a long and committed qualification process through the ASP World Qualifying Series, that eventually leads to the elite World Championship Tour. For information about the qualification process, please visit The ASP World Title is awarded to the No. 1-ranked surfer on the ASP World Championship Tour rankings at year’s end. The ASP World Championship Tour rankings are based off of the surfers’ best eight out of 10 results from ASP WCT events. The point scores for each possible event placing are shown below: The ASP Top 34 is comprised of: the top 22 ranked surfers on the year-end ASP World Championship Tour rankings, the top 10 surfers ranked on the year-end ASP World Rankings (not including surfers qualifying in the Top 22 on the ASP WCT rankings), and two ASP wildcards.

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