Dropping In

Every few years, circumstances conspire to create waves gnarly enough to bring the world’s best surfers to Waimea Bay for the Eddie, a competition that occurs only when conditions are absolutely perfect. The latest tounament happened this past February, and our Scott Rudin was fortunate enough to be there, with a camera in hand

There’s a saying in Hawaii, particularly useful when the going gets rough: “Eddie would go.” You’ll find it on bumper stickers on the islands, sometimes repurposed as a newspaper headline or a chant. The phrase refers to Hawaiian hero Eddie Aikau—the first lifeguard to patrol Oahu’s North Shore and an award-winning surfer, he was lost at sea in 1978, swimming for help after a ship had capsized. Since then, he’s become a local legend—and to surfers around the world, an example of all that’s best about the sport.

Beyond the memories and the slogan, Aikau is honored by the Eddie, an invitational surf competition at Oahu’s Waimea Bay, the same beach the big-wave surfer patrolled in the 1960s and ’70s with his brother Clyde. The first competition was held in 1984, and because conditions for the tournament have to be just right, it has only taken place eight times in the past 32 years. In early February, the brightest lights in big-wave surfing converged on the island to prepare for a new chapter in the tournament’s history, but by the 10th, officials had called it off—the athletes were at the whim of the weather, and the surf just wasn’t big enough. As longtime contest director George Downing said in an interview: “The Bay calls the day.”
It was a special day on so many levels: honoring life, honoring competition, honoring heritage.

Two weeks later, the bay pulled through. In the days prior, newspapers speculated endlessly with headlines like “Will the Eddie Happen?” and “Looks Like the Eddie Will Go,” until, the night before organizers made the decision, locals started camping out on the road to the bay, jockeying for access to the beach. At 5 a.m. on February 25, the call was made and the Eddie was on. Such top-tier surfers as Kelly Slater, Ross Clarke-Jones, and Shane Dorian paddled out, and Clyde himself, now 66, surfed two rounds during the tournament in his brother’s memory. He said it would be his final competition.

The waves reached heights exceeding 50 feet, and boards were broken in the fray (children ran to the shoreline, collecting pieces as souvenirs). As the tournament wrapped, 23-year-old Honolulu native John John Florence took first place in what many called “the greatest Eddie of them all.”

Photographer and Ralph Lauren staffer Scott Rudin was there to catch the action on film. “Being that surfing was invented in Hawaii, this is something that’s so culturally rich to Hawaiians, and it was a special day on so many levels: honoring life, honoring competition, honoring heritage,” he says. “You felt it not only if you were there watching. It was an island-wide thing.”

Below, a collection of images Rudin captured that day.
Jon Roth is the editor of RL Mag.