The three-month holding period and invitation list for the 2011/2012 Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau were released this week, with 28 invitees and 24 alternates on the list for big wave surfing's most prestigious event. The official holding period for the 27th annual Eddie will be from Dec. 1, 2011 through Feb. 29, 2012. The Hawaiian contest will only be held if waves at Oahu's Waimea Bay exceed the 20-foot minimum requirement, which has only been met eight times in the last 26 years. Last year's contest was called off due to inconsistent surf on Jan. 20, 2011, when the contest's promoters felt the less-than-perfect conditions would compromise the integrity of the historic event.
"What makes it so exciting is it's almost completely unpredictable," says Mark Healey, one of this year's invitees. "Really it just comes down to a waiting game, and for three months your whole life revolves around watching the surf forecast and waiting for that call. We came really close to having it last year and the year before that it went off really big. I'm hoping -- I'm really hoping -- that it goes off big this year, because it's such a special experience."
Healey has competed at the Eddie twice before, and while he's no stranger to big wave surfing events -- he won the Todos Santos Big Wave event in 2010 and won the XXL Monster Tube Award in 2008/2009 -- he says the Eddie will always hold a special place in his heart.
Aikau, one of the great Hawaiian watermen and a big wave surfing pioneer at Waimea Bay, was just 31 years old when he died in 1978. "Eddie was a young man of character, integrity and incredible athletic ability," says Quiksilver CEO Bob McKnight, in a statement issued on Tuesday. "His story took surfing's story across boundaries and around the world. Through his legacy, we look to inspire young generations of surfers for decades to come."
Of the 28 invitees, 18 of them -- including Healey -- live in Hawaii. The locals list includes Aikau's little brother Clyde Aikau, as well Brock Little, Bruce Irons, Dave Wassel, Jamie O'Brien, Jamie Sterling, Kala Alexander, Keone Downing, Kohl Christensen, Mahura Rothman, Michael Ho, Noah Johnson, Reef McIntosh, Rusty Keaulana, Shane Dorian, Sunny Garcia, and Tom Carroll. Other Americans on the list include Kelly Slater, Greg Long, Nathan Fletcher, and Peter Mel. Ramon Navarro (Chile), Ross Clarke (Australia), Carlos Burle (Brazil), Grant Baker (South Africa), Jeremy Flores (France), and Takayuki Wakita (Japan) are also among the invitees (for the full list of alternates, visit quiksilverlive.com/eddieaikau/2012.
"We're all close friends and what's really special about this event is it's a lot less cutthroat than other surf events," says Healey. "Everybody's out there to compete but we're also out there to enjoy the experience of surfing an awesome wave together and trying to do it the way Eddie would have done it. He was never really into contests -- he was much more of a free surfer -- so you want to bring that spirit out into the water. Everybody wants to win it, of course, and everybody wants to catch big waves, but the waves are so damned big that just catching them and surviving them is taking up a lot of your thought process. There's a lot more strategizing going on in a small wave contest when your life isn't hanging in the balance! At the Eddie it's a victory if you can catch a big wave and make it back to the beach in one piece."
Healey admits that the waiting game can be as harrowing as the contest itself. Like everyone who follows big wave surfing, Healey says he's subscribed to the Quiksilverlive.com email alerts and will be on pins and needles waiting for the news.
"It's something people outside of surfing just cannot understand," says Healey. "They can't get a grip on the fact that you can't give a guaranteed commitment to any kind of schedule or anything in the future, but that's how it is: If the Eddie gets called on I'm going to drop everything, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, and get over to the contest. When it's on, it's on."
When it's -- or, rather, if it's on -- surfing fans around the world will be able to tune in via live webcast: Quiksilver estimates that the Dec. 8, 2009 event was broadcast to more than 100 million viewers globally.