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Doing the Wave

Illustration Graham Roumieu

Oahu, Hawaii

At 6 a.m. on December 8, dawn breaks on the north shore of Oahu to the steady cadence of 50-foot waves pounding the beach. Boom… boom… As a salty mist hangs in the air over Waimea Bay like cotton candy, practically every big-wave surfer alive is lugging his or her long board across the sand to compete in one of the sport’s most esteemed and infrequent events: The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau, or “The Eddie.”

One prominent invitee is three-time world champion Andy Irons. Having just emerged from the water after a 45-minute session, his eyes are aglow with adrenaline. “There are way more world champions than there are winners of the Eddie,” he says. “They don’t hold it very often, so I’m just happy to get the invite.”

Named after late Hawaiian surfing legend Eddie Aikau, the Eddie has taken place just eight times since its debut 25 years ago. The rules stipulate that waves must reach a minimum of 30 feet for organizers to even consider making the call. This year, the extraordinary swell sent 40-foot-high walls of terror hurtling from the Bering Sea to Waimea. Big-wave cowboys studying satellite photos knew the Eddie was on days before the swell hit.

The world’s most fearless surfer may be Greg Long, a skinny, soft-spoken 24-year-old from San Clemente, California. Today, with the surf hitting 60 feet with regularity, Long rides waves that could easily swallow him whole. In the end, he bests his hero, Kelly Slater. His win is based on the size of the wave, his position at “takeoff ” and the potential consequences if he’d wiped out (best not to contemplate). The prize: a gnarly $55,000 check.

“I’m humbled,” Long says from the dais.

Irons, standing nearby, nods in agreement. “Thanks, Eddie,” he says. —JEFF MULL

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