Even though waves at Waimea Bay were "just not up to the ‘Eddie’ standards," and the big wave surfing contest wasn’t held, authorities closed Waimea Bay Beach Park at dusk today as a precautionary measure due to the high surf.
Waves were reported at between 15-to-20 feet, and at that height waters can potentially pull someone in, Ocean Safety Officer Tom Allen said.
The park is expected to reopen at sunrise tomorrow.
But while the ‘Eddie’ didn’t happen today, some of the best big wave surfers in the world went into the water and surfed.
Contest Director George Downing said that while 20- to 25-foot waves rolled in this morning, the surf was not consistent enough to hold the competition.
"What keeps this event the greatest big wave event in the world is never relaxing those standards. Eddie never did," Downing said in a post on the contest website.
Surf early this morning was about 15 to 18 feet, according to the contest website, just shy of the consistent 20-foot surf — by Hawaiian measurements — required for the competition. Sets appeared to be coming in about every 40 minutes with wave faces of at least 30 feet.
Thousands of spectators streamed into Waimea Bay Beach Park before dawn in hopes that the Eddie Aikau big wave surf contest would be a go today.
Bundled in hoodies, blankets and sleeping bags, people packed the lookout areas on both sides of the bay.
Professional surfer Sunny Garcia, who placed third in the last Eddie Aikau event, said it was "a bummer" the contest wasn’t held. "Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful day," he said adding that spectators still had a chance to watch surfers catch spectacular waves.
The holding period for the event runs until Feb. 28. "There is still a possibility there will be another swell. We’re just going to have to wait and see," he said.
The crowd, estimated by contest organizers at 15,000, dissipated slightly after the announcement was made, but most stayed to see more surfing.
Kapolei resident Jake Bradshaw said getting to see the power of Mother Nature is phenomenal. "It’s an awesome opportunity," he said.
Surfers from all over the world gathered at Waimea Bay and some went into the water even before the official announcement that the contest was off.
More than two-dozen surfers were in the lineup as the sun rose. The crowd on and around the beach cheered as the largest sets came in.
As the morning wore on, the surf appeared to be going down and wasn’t as clean.
Lifeguards kept busy at Waimea Bay warning spectators to stay away from the wave run-up and away from the river mouth to prevent injuries to those on shore.
Lifeguards helped two surfers to shore or safer waters at Waimea by 10 a.m. this morning.
Sadie Salazar, who is vacationing from Utah with her family, left her Kailua vacation rental at 3 a.m. today to make the long drive to Waimea Bay. "We don’t have waves there," said Salazar who parked about a half-mile away from the beach.
Kailua resident Julie Lee coaxed a co-worker to take the day off from work at the Queen’s Medical Center to watch the surf at Waimea Bay.
"It’s fun to be out there whether it goes or not," Lee said.
City officials are asking people thinking of going to the North Shore today to take TheBus to Waimea. Those driving themselves to the North Shore are asked to look out for pedestrians and be patient in the traffic.
No public parking is available today at Waimea and workers put up barriers on Kamehameha Highway around the bay to prevent illegal parking.
Traffic around Waimea Bay appeared to be slow, but moving steadily this morning.
Contest organizers estimated 20,000 people watched the last Eddie Aikau surf event held in December 2009, the 25th anniversary. Greg Long of San Clemente, Calif. won after a perfect score on a wave.
The big wave surfing event was first held in 1985 at Sunset Beach in honor of surf legend Eddie Aikau, a fearless and humble waterman who saved many lives as a lifeguard at Waimea Bay.
In March 1978, Aikau paddled toward Lanai on his surfboard to seek help for his fellow crew members after the Hokulea double-hull voyaging canoe capsized in the Molokai Channel. It was the last time Aikau was seen.
Crew members were rescued after a Hawaiian Airlines pilot spotted them during a flight. A massive search and rescue effort for Aikau was initiated but he was never found.
The surf event in memory of Aikau moved to Waimea Bay from Sunset Beach in 1986.
Part of the appeal of the competition is its rarity. Conditions have to be perfect and the contest has only been held eight times in the 25 years since its inception.
"There is definite potential in the coming weeks for more extra large surf to arise," Downing said. "If that day comes, we will be ready to go again."