A local lifeguard in Hawaii was the surprise winner of the famous Eddie Akao Big Wave Invitational – dubbed the “Super Bowl of Surfing” – after beating out competition from some of the sport’s biggest names.
Luke Shepardson took a sanctioned break from his lifeguarding duties at Waimea Bay to take part in the event – affectionately known as Eddie – and finished with the closest score of 89.1 points, ahead of defending champion John John Florence. was in second place.
The 27-year-old accepted the award in his yellow lifeguard T-shirt and red board shorts, saying it was a “dream come true” just to compete in Sunday’s competition.
An eddy is only held when waves reach a constant height of 20 feet in Waimea Bay on Oahu’s north shore during the winter months.
It was only the 10th time since its inception in 1987 and the first time since 2016 that Florence has won the honour.
Other past winners include surfing veterans. Kelly Slater in 2002 and Ross Clarke-Jones, who contested again in 2001. No surfer has ever won Eddie more than once.
The event is held in memory of big-wave surfer Eddie Akao, the first official lifeguard on the North Shore who volunteered to help when a canoe sank to retrace an ancient Polynesian migration route. The trip was hit by bad weather.
It seemed fitting then that this year’s champion was also a local lifeguard.
When he was announced as the winner, Shepardson was hoisted onto the shoulders of his fellow competitors, drenched in beer, and mobbed by onlookers eager to snap a photo.
He won $10,000 for taking first place with scores of 30.0, 30.0, and 29.1 on his three best waves, just shy of a perfect score of 90 points.
Florence leads Mark Haley in third place with 84.2 points. Billy Camper in the fourth.
This year also saw women – six in total – take part in the competition for the first time, and it was Andrea Muller who made history as the first woman to catch a wave in Eddy.
In 2016, Kayla Kennelly became the first woman to be invited to the competition when she was nominated as an alternate.
Waimea Bay’s mighty waves produced a series of breath-taking, nerve-wracking performances from those invited to take part in Eddy this year.
The competition attracted huge crowds, who were instructed to stay behind the yellow tape near the shore to avoid being swept away by the dangerous tide.
“I want to thank everyone for coming out here today,” Clyde Eckau, pageant director and Eddie’s brother, said during the awards ceremony.
“I want to commend every single competitor who paddled out because just paddling out today was an achievement in itself, and congratulations to all the competitors.”