There’s probably no “list” in surfing more elite than this one. Arguments can be made that other contests hold more clout or more prestige, but those contests likely don’t run only nine times in more than 30 years. From those nine occasions exactly nine men have finished big wave surfing’s grandest day as champion of the Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau.
Here’s a look at those legends who make up one of surfing’s most exclusive lists: winner of the Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau.
1. Denton Miyamura (1984)
Winning the inaugural Eddie was Denton Miyamura’s best competitive result. The win came at Sunset Beach, before contest organizers decided to move it all to Waimea Bay the following year. But Denton got his win and the $5,000 prize to go along with it.
2. Clyde Aikau (1986)
Now 66-years, old Clyde Aikau was the first person to win this contest at Waimea in its current format. Yes, today Eddie’s little brother is 66-years old and still charging the Bay with the best of them. In 1990 he finished 5th in the Eddie, 10th in 2001, and 8th in 2002 at the ripe age of 51-years young. But after all that history and decades of paying homage to his older brother, the man who taught him how to surf Waimea, 2016 was Brother Clyde’s last time competing in the Eddie.
3. Keone Downing (1990)
Keone Downing pocketed $55,000 for winning the event in 1990, the biggest payout in professional surfing at the time. His father, George, is the man who makes the call on if and when the Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational will run each year, which obviously paid off for Keone in ’90.
4. Noah Johnson (1999)
Noah Johnson ad a short lived run on surfing’s professional world tour before turning his focus on big wave surfing. In fact, his story is a reminder of how far the sport has come over the years. Johnson spent his own money to pursue his passion for charging in big surf, and according to the Encyclopedia of Surfing, most of the $55,000 check he took for winning the Eddie on New Years Day of 1999 went straight to the IRS and Mastercard.
5. Ross Clarke-Jones (2001)
Ross Clarke-Jones’ name is synonymous with big wave surfing, so it’s only appropriate that he has at least one Big Wave Invitational win under his belt. For more than a decade Clarke-Jones was a fixture in almost every single big wave event around the globe, with his 2001 title at the Eddie topping the list of personal accomplishments while also making him the first non-Hawaiian champion in the contest’s history.
6. Kelly Slater (2002)
Do you need to know anything else about this guy?
7. Bruce Irons (2004)
Bruce Irons snagged one of the most iconic rides in surfing’s history when he won this very competition in 2004. Even in the midst of his brother’s complete dominance of the World Tour, Bruce was as big as superstars got in the surf world at this time. His winning wave at Waimea sums the man up as well any other ride could possibly tell any surfer’s story: a rollercoaster drop into an absolute bomb, swallowed up by whitewash then reappearing moments later, then casually riding the wave as far inside as he could go. Then, moving into the world’s most famous shorebreak, he styles out, throws one arm up with that classic wide stance, and pulls into a massive barrel that probably tossed him around like a rag doll.
It’s one of those special moments that you only need to see once to remember forever.
8. Greg Long (2009)
Greg Long would have been big wave royalty without winning the Eddie, but his 2009 victory didn’t hurt the case. And considering what we know about the man’s personality, it’s not much of a surprise to hear Long isn’t exactly hellbent on securing a second title.
“As far as I’m concerned, that was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said in an interview leading up to the 2016 Eddie. “If anything, I’d love someone else to win so they can have that joy and elation that winning the event brings about. I know what an accomplishment it was for me. To see someone else fulfill that goal and dream, it would be awesome.”
9. John John Florence
It wasn’t that surprising that John John Florence’s first run at the Eddie also became his first win at the Eddie. Ross Clarke-Jones led through three quarters of the contest, threatening to become the first two-time champ at Waimea. Meanwhile, John John had caught five waves all day and needed at least a 65 with ten minutes to go to catch the top spot in his final heat. Naturally, he pulled an 88 out of nowhere. Because John John.
“It’s one of the most special moments of my life, for sure,” he said after his heat. “This event’s only run a couple times in my whole life, and for me to be a part of it is amazing.”