Luke Shepardson is more accustomed to saving lives than winning international surfing competitions. However, on Monday, the on-duty lifeguard defeated some of the sport’s biggest names to win the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational in Hawaii.
Shepardson had to obtain authorization from his employer to compete in the coveted event. Which pits professional and local surfers against enormous swells and ran for the first time in seven years this week. The competition, known simply as The Eddie, is only held when Waimea Bay’s waves routinely exceed 30 feet.
John John Florence, a two-time WSL champion, won the 2016 edition and came close to becoming the first two-time champion. But ultimately lost to Shepardson, who won the title between sprints to his lifeguard tower on the beach.
Shepardson stated, “I reminded myself, ‘I’m in it because I can win. “It was very terrifying. The waves were enormous, and it was a dream come true simply to be on the alternate list for The Eddie. I cannot believe that; it is absurd. “I must return to the tower to ensure that everyone is safe until the end of the day.”
Shepardson, 27, got 89.1 out of a possible 90 points to win the competition and the $10,000 prize. As he joined Florence and other prior winners such as Kelly Slater, Bruce Irons, and Ross Clarke Jones on the beach. He was hoisted up in celebration while still wearing the characteristic yellow and red lifesavers costume.
The winner invoked recollections of the event’s namesake; The Eddie is held in memory of the late Eddie Aikau, a Hawaiian surfer and lifeguard – the first on Oahu’s North Shore – like Shepardson.
Local lifeguard wins Eddie Aikau surf contest.
Aikau saved more than 500 people over his career, but his voyaging canoe capsized in 1978. While retracing a historic Polynesian migration path between Hawaii and Tahiti. Aikau paddled out on his surfboard to signal for help, and the rest of the crew was subsequently rescued. However, Aikau vanished, and his body was never discovered.
In 1985, the event was organized for the first time at Sunset Beach to honor his life. And it has been held only nine times since. Eddie’s younger brother Clyde Aikau won the initial competition held on Oahu’s North Shore two years after the sport’s inception. Clyde currently oversees the event, which saw a woman, Brazil’s Andrea Moller, catch a wave for the first time this year, six years after female surfers were declared alternate competitors.
It had been speculated for almost a week that The Eddie would be held this year. And the contest had been given the go-ahead before being placed on hold. Big wave surfers from as far away as Portugal have consulted forecasters who regularly monitor the massive storms through the north Pacific for indications that they may produce the required 30-foot clean waves for the competition.
As each day passed and more data was received from buoys hundreds of kilometers north of Waimea Bay on the island of Oahu, the forty invited surfers for The Eddie hurried to prepare their equipment, support staff, and mentality.
“It was fantastic to surf in this competition,” said Kai Lenny, an accomplished big-wave surfer who placed sixth. “I’m sure we all had Eddie Aikau posters in our bedroom as children. So having the chance to travel out there for Eddie and his family, the Aikaus, was a dream come true for me.”