If there is ever a time to visit Honolulu’s Chinatown, you can never go wrong with the first Friday of any month. Twelve times a year, the Honolulu Arts District hosts a street festival featuring the art galleries, shops, restaurants, live entertainment, and street vendors there.
I was lucky enough to be on Oʻahu on Friday, March 3, 2023, which coincided with the opening party of Paul Strouse’s The Bay Called the Day exhibition. As I snaked through Chinatown’s streets and neared the gallery entrance, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, as I entered the intimate space, I was warmly greeted by magnificent, large-format prints in both color and black and white. Taken by 11 world-renowned photographers, the unique photographs shared a common theme – they were all shot on January 22, 2023, the day of the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. The variety of images told a powerful story of epic rides, a local community sharing aloha, the ever-humble champion, Luke Shepardson, and a day that honored the legacy of Eddie Aikau like none other.
In addition to the photographs on display, there was a large table in the middle of the gallery which had smaller prints, with two different sizing options for sale. “I feel like print will always have a place for someone to put on their wall,” said Strouse. “Whereas with quick media, you take all these photos, and then they’re on Instagram for just a day or two. They only see the light of day for a short time and then they’re just gone forever.”
Proceeds from print purchases go to the Eddie Aikau Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to sharing his life, contributions and accomplishments while promoting education and the advancement of Hawaiian culture. Additionally, the ever-crowded bar donated all of its earnings to the North Shore Lifeguards Association. Based on the turnout and the ambiance in the gallery, both organizations were sure to have garnered substantial support from the opening night.
Following Friday’s festivities, I had a chance to speak with Linda Ipsen, Treasurer of the Eddie Aikau Foundation and Aikau’s widow. Launched in 2000, the non-profit plays the two-part role of organizing the contest as well as highlighting the day as a Hawaiian cultural event with the purpose of education and growing awareness of the role the Waimea Valley played in Aikau’s life. Much like Strouse, Ipsen is “old school” in the sense that she likes the ability to relive a moment through a photograph.
“I’m really happy that there have been so many exhibitions of different photographers’ work, because they really work hard to get these great shots,” Ipsen said. “I’m just happy to see that they’re able to get (their photos) out there for the public to enjoy and see. There were so many people that weren’t able to be there that day. And even those that were, there were so many different things going on, it’s nice to have the ability to go, ‘Oh, wow I didn’t know that happened!’”
The motivation to put something together stemmed from Strouse wanting to share the moments he captured that day. After reaching out to two photographers to see if they wanted to contribute their work, interest began to snowball. Shane Grace, who is featured in the show, helped bridge the gap between Strouse and the other photographers who ended up becoming involved, including Brent and Brian Bielmann, David Bjorn, Joey Trisolini, Kammeran Keola, Ryan Chachi Craig, Ryan Foley, Tom Servais, and Zak Noyle.
To Strouse, the Eddie is the embodiment of Hawaiʻi because the contest is one of the best examples of the islands’ beauty and strength. He explains how much respect he witnessed that day – not only the respect that the competitors had for the ocean, but the respect that everyone had for each other.
“Everyone was super courteous. People were having a great time, but not littering. From what I saw, it was a lot of people respecting the event and everyone around them. It was not like a concert where you’re elbowing people next to you to get a better look. At least where I was, it was very friendly,” Strouse said.
Ipsen was enthralled by Waimea’s immeasurable force during the contest: “That day on the beach, you could feel it. When the waves are that big, the ground is just pounding. You can feel it when those waves are hitting – it just vibrates everywhere. It was amazing to watch people just in awe of what Waimea can be. I have seen her before when she was like that, but for so many people, it was their first time,” Ipsen said.
The featured photos encapsulate just how seamless everything went this year, due in part to support from the community as well as the city and county. In Ipsen’s words, the Aikau family is proud of, and wants to continue, the cultural aspect of the event, seen most clearly in the opening ceremony. She is especially pleased that 2023 marked the first year when women were competing as well.
“As far as I know, we were the only big wave contest that invited women,” she said. “Keala Kennelly, who was invited in the 2018-2019 season, competed this year. Now we have women that are invited, and alternate women. We don’t separate them; they are out there with their male athlete counterparts. Getting out there beyond the 15-20 foot shorebreak, when Waimea is pumping, is amazing. You don’t get towed out at the Eddie, you gotta get out there yourself.”
If you’re interested in seeing the exhibition in person, The Bay Called the Day will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays until May 5. Prints are still available for purchase, with proceeds going to the Eddie Aikau Foundation. As they receive most of their funding through donations, any financial support will help them perpetuate Eddie’s legacy and aloha spirit to the younger generation, which will always be an honorable pursuit.