Jay Meehan: Holding patterns
December 9, 2014
I’ve been truly attempting to keep focused on the lack of snow upon the slopes back in Utah but with geography and latitude over here in Kauai doing those disruptive things they do, keeping the dearth of frozen, translucent, hexagonal ice crystals in the Wasatch smack dab in the center of my consciousness, let alone my crosshairs, has proven problematic.
We got our own weather issues to worry about over in these parts, even though, chaos-theory-wise, they are probably connected. In fact, just the other evening, following some much needed Mai-Tai therapy, it came to me that the "butterfly effect" of a few thousand 30 to 40-foot-plus waves rolling into Waimea Bay on the north shore of Oahu might be just what the ski doctor ordered for Park City.
Waimea Bay, you see, is only a short hop down the street from the keyboard upon which I currently pound. It probably should be noted, however, that for the most part, the street in question runs underwater for, considering the average topography of the ocean floor in these part, about 90 miles or so of its journey.
But, be that as it may, we’re in a holding pattern just like you guys. You’re waiting for "the big one" before you break out those new wide-shovel powder boards you scored a month or so back for un-chump change while elite surfers in these parts are on hold before they can break out their singular new "paddle-in gun" they’re counting on to win "The Eddie" this year.
That’s right, paddle-in! "The Eddie," the "Quicksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau" big wave surfing invitational, ain’t no stinking "tow-in" event. No, it’s about the spirit of the surfing gods with which the longtime Waimea Bay lifeguard was in constant touch. No shortcuts.
In fact, they don’t even have competition in years that the waves aren’t flat-out monstrous. The way it comes down is that, each year, contest organizers invite a short list of those big wave surfers who most exemplify the "Eddie" vibe and a holding period ensues wherein all concerned await the big waves that will trigger the one-day competition.
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This year the holding period commenced on Dec. 1 and is scheduled to run through Feb. 28, 2015. The swells certainly have been holding their own this winter with high surf warnings posted more often than not on north and eastern windward exposures on all of the Hawaiian Islands. This doesn’t mean that holding an "Eddie" this year is inevitable, but it does give cause for hope.
In the meantime, the best big wave surfers in the world mark time surfing the large winter swells that do make their presence felt along the North Shore of Oahu this time of year. There is also the "Triple Crown of Surfing," which has been taking place from Nov. 12 through Dec. 20, to occupy those awaiting the announcement that "The Eddie" will in fact "Go."
Although Eddie Aikau himself had already achieved legendary North Shore lifeguard and surfing status, it was his actions as a crew member of the Hawaiian voyaging canoe "Hōkūle’a" on its second voyage to Tahiti in 1978 that he achieved god-status among watermen everywhere.
When, due to many previously unseen intervening variables including high winds and rough seas, the canoe capsized 12 miles south of Molokai with little to no hope of rescue, Eddie received permission from the captain to paddle a surfboard to Lanai, a smaller island of the Hawaiian chain, about 10 miles away. Hence the slogan "Eddie would go!" on shirts, bumper stickers, and lips of the faithful.
When, almost by miracle, an airline pilot who had altered course caught glimpse of one of Hōkūle’a’s flares and transmitted its position to the Coast Guard and the remaining crew were rescued, the search for Eddie Aikau immediately got underway. The 31-year-old master waterman was never seen again.
In his wake, his legend grew, with "The Eddie" becoming perhaps the largest such tribute to a fallen hero within the surfing world. Involving criteria of minimum wave height that has only been met eight times in its now 30-year history and "invitation only" eligibility, it is easily the most prestigious and exclusive of big-wave competitions.
So, here we sit in concurrent holding patterns, awaiting on the one hand a huge dump of snow in the Wasatch and on the other a large enough winter swell to bring monster waves to Waimea Bay. All players are in place at both venues. The stage is set. Bring it on!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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