Clyde Aikau: Last of the Big-Wave Pioneers

Clyde Aikau grew up in awe of his legendary brother Eddie Aikau, but he went on to become something of a legend himself.  A big-wave surfer, he has competed in the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Contest (also known as simply the “Eddie”) for 31 years.  That’s longer than some of his competitors have been alive. 

As the waiting period for the 2016 Eddie draws to a close on Feb. 29th, a key chapter in Clyde’s life is also closing as well. After this year, Clyde Aikau will be retiring from the competition.  Amazingly, at the age of 66, he’s still charging enormous waves at Waimea Bay! 

In fact, in early Feb., he surfed a swell that was so big that even World Champion and former Eddie winner Kelly Slater couldn’t make it to the outside. Kelly later joked about having to do the “walk of shame” on the beach after getting battered back to shore.  

After one nasty wipeout that day, Clyde suffered an agonizing hold-down and almost had to inflate his safety vest.  At that point, his life was probably flashing before his eyes, taking him back to those small-wave days back in Waikiki where he learned to surf. 

While Eddie was the first one to begin surfing in Waikiki back in the early 60’s, Clyde and his brothers soon followed. “I caught my first wave out there at Canoe’s going left and I was so amazed at how fast I was going and how fast the water was moving me. That feeling was so exhilarating that I never stopped after that,” Clyde said in an interview with Stuart Coleman, author of Eddie Would Go.

As the brothers became more experienced surfers, they craved bigger and better waves. “We started at the Wall [in Waikiki]. Then we progressed to Queens and then to Ala Moana Bowls and then to Haleiwa. Eddie and I would sleep in our truck and were the first to hit the water at Haleiwa. After that, it was Sunset Beach,” Clyde recalls. The final test came at Waimea, and Clyde will never forget that day in November of 1967 when he saw Eddie take off on the most massive wave he had ever seen ridden at the Bay. “I don’t think Waimea Bay ever got as big that day,” Clyde recalls in Coleman’s new book Eddie Aikau: Hawaiian Hero.

 
 

As Clyde became a fellow big-wave surfer and competitor, both brothers ended up going head to head in the Duke Kahanamoku Classic, the most prestigious contest of its time. In 1973, Clyde beat his older brother and the best surfers in the world to win the Duke Classic.  

Eddie was happy for his brother, but he wanted victory as well.  Finally, fours years later, he went on to win the Duke in 1977.  During his acceptance speech, he dedicated his victory to his family and the people of Hawaii.  Sadly, Eddie Aikau would disappear at sea several months later.  He died trying to save his fellow sailors after their voyaging canoe Hokule’a capsized in a storm while en route from Hawaii to Tahiti.

After Eddie’s death, the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau competition was created in 1984 and has since become the most well-known big-wave surfing competition in the world. When the event was first held at Waimea Bay in 1986, Clyde went head to head in massive surf against Mark Foo.  In the last minutes, he caught the largest waves of the day barely beat Foo in an emotional victory dedicated to his brother Eddie.

    On Wed., Feb. 10th, 2016, Eddie contest organizers hoped to hold the Eddie at Waimea.  The event has only been held eight times in 31 years so thousands trekked to Waimea in the early morning hours.  Unfortunately, the contest was called off last-minute due to waves not meeting the height requirements of 20-40’ waves for eight hours of competition. 

The 66-year old Clyde was scheduled in the first round to go up against young John-John Florence, who is four decades younger. With a week left in the holding period, there is still a good possibility he will get that chance this week.  Clyde may be the oldest big-wave pioneer in the Eddie Contest, but he is still a fierce competitor.

 

Nicollete Smith
Staff Writer