The Eddie Goes Big, and Some Say Brock's Spirit Was Behind It

Waimea Bay roared for the ninth running of the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau, aka "The Eddie." The winter of 2015/2016 will go down in history as one of the wildest in the history of big-wave surfing. For most of the Pacific, the energy can be attributed to a meteorological phenomenon called El Niño, which kicked up giant surf from Jaws on Maui to Mavericks in California and back to Oahu, where a giant swell swept into Waimea Bay on February 25 and dared 24 of the world’s best surfers to go steep and deep. Eddie Aikau is a member of OluKai 'Ohana in life and in death. His fated expedition to Tahiti was aboard the Hokule'a, which OluKai supports through its Ama OluKai Foundation.  "The Eddie," then, is only made possible by the most extreme, story-worthy swells, based on the idea that "Eddie would go." Eddie's spirit is present at every competition, but this year was joined by that of another legend. One such swell came just eight days after the sad, untimely death of Brock Little, one of Waimea’s best surfers, and a California-born Hawaiian resident and big-wave pioneer. Little cemented his legend at the 1990 running of the Eddie by taking off on a giant wave he didn’t make, and pulling into a barrel that he just slipped on in the end. "My $50,000 mistake,” Brock called it, as victory in that contest went to Keone Downing—but the legend went to Brock. In December of 2015, Brock was diagnosed with fourth stage liver cancer, and his soul left this earth just two months later on the morning of February 18. Brock was known for his courage in big surf, his love of big surf, his love of fear and adrenaline, and for his total comfort in a heaving ocean. A few days after his death, the North Shore was hit with a giant swell combined with ferocious winds that closed Kam Highway for 11 miles and did significant damage to homes all along the North Shore. Two days after that, Quiksilver put up the Yellow Light and then the Green Light for the running of a contest that is only held when Waimea is at its biggest and meanest. “I was riding my bike down here this morning in the dark, and just the energy of how many people were parked all the way down the street,” Jon Jon Florence said. “I've lived here my whole life and I've never seen it like that.” The #brockswell, people were calling it, and there was something to it This Eddie happened on the heels of "No Go" call a few weeks before on February 11, when tens of thousands of spectators flooded Waimea Bay from the land side only to be sent home when the forecast swell failed to materialize. The call for a contest on the 25th came three days before the end of the waiting period. There was some skepticism that this would be another false alarm, but those who woke up at Waimea Bay that morning had no doubt that the energy was there. They called the contest at around 8 a.m., and from there, the tens of thousands of spectators (and even more watching online) were treated to a gladiator pit of a surf contest. On this day, Waimea was as big and mean as it gets. A giant swell combined with a lot of wind and lump to create truly challenging and treacherous conditions for the 24 invited surfers. As the contest carried on and the wipeouts and the charging grew more intense as surfers battled with the conditions, more than a few akamai North Shore residents could sense the kolohe spirit of Brock pushing that swell into Waimea Bay. Brock was all about pushing his limits, and was the pied piper to a generation of surfers who are now riding Waimea Bay at the outer limits. That is what happened on this 25 of February. There were closeout sets that caught surfers inside, broke leashes and even sent all five water patrol jet skis fleeing to the beach. Brock would have been proud, because that is what he liked to see out there: Total commitment. While some were calling this the best surf for an Eddie ever, others who remembered the 1990 running of the event had to shake their heads. That swell was every bit as big as 2016, but the conditions were absolutely perfect, where this event was shifty, bumpy and very difficult to make. The world’s best surfers were challenged to their utmost. “Well that was radical...” Kelly Slater described the day on Instagram. “What a day! What a swell! Let's see… Not super approachable on the ledge without flying through the air. So many dudes sending it on giant waves these days and it was as great to watch as to participate for me. Thank you to the #AikauFamily and especially #ClydeAikau for your inspiration and commitment over these years, charging your final event into an age beyond mortal humans. Thank you @brock.little for inspiring this whole generation of chargers before there were jet skis and water patrol and life vests and names for outer reefs and more than just a few people wanting to surf big waves.” Kelly saw the #brockswell, and so did many others. In the end, the contest was “on for young and old” as the Australians say. Fifty-year-old Ross Clarke-Jones has been charging Waimea for decades, and was charging this day, leading into the second round helped by a near-perfect score of 96. Clarke-Jones seemed to have the cat in the bag, but then John John Florence scored an 89 in his second round heat and then an 88 with 10 minutes left and hung in there for the win. The results: 23-year-old John John Florence in first, Ross Clarke-Jones in second, 43-year-old Shane Dorian in third, 39-year-old Jamie Mitchell in fourth, 43-year-old Kelly Slater in fifth and 31-year-old Makuakai Rothman in sixth. Whether or not this swell was sent by Brock Little, all who surfed in it did so in Brock’s honor. During his heat, Kelly Slater pulled into a barrel and came out, honoring what Brock did way back in 1990. “I just wanted to get a barrel for Brock,” Kelly said. “I miss Brock so much. He was such an influence on my life and a good friend. He was the kind of guy that challenged you to be your best and cut the [crap] out. There's no one else like Brock.”

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