Luke Shepardson clinches ‘Eddie’ win in front of 50,000 spectators at Waimea Bay

City lifeguard Luke Shepardson beat out reigning champ John John Florence to win The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational on Sunday in front of a massive crowd
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 7:22 AM HST|Updated: Jan. 23, 2023 at 5:18 AM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - City lifeguard Luke Shepardson beat out reigning champ John John Florence to win The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational on Sunday in front of a massive crowd at Waimea Bay.

Shepardson, who is with Honolulu Ocean Safety and is a North Shore native, secured an overall score of 90.

“It’s all legends, people I looked up to my whole life. Some of my best friends growing up, and it’s just I can’t believe I was able to share the lineup with those guys and to come out on top is unbelievable,” Shepardson said.

After his win, Shepardson had to go back on duty as a lifeguard, saying he still had to do his part to make sure everyone goes back home safely.

An estimated 50,000 spectators crowded into Waimea Bay on Sunday to see “The Eddie” go — and the bay did not disappoint with a monster swell that produced waves topping 50 feet.

“Just paddling out today was a feat in itself,” said event organizer Clyde Aikau.

Aikau himself took to the microphone before sunrise Sunday to announce to a gathering crowd that the event was on. Forty elite surfers were invited to participate, with the first heat hitting the waves at 8 a.m.

Lifeguards stressed that while the display from Mother Nature was beautiful, it was also dangerous. And as the surf grew throughout the day, rogue waves often washed onto the beach to soak spectators.

Over the course of the event, lifeguards said they rescued at least 64 people at the bay and issued more than 10,000 preventive warnings to those too close to the shore break.

“This is an epic Eddie Aikau Invitational. It is as good as it gets,” said surfer and lifeguard Dave Wassel. “The excitement is overwhelming. It’s big, it’s beautiful. But don’t forget, it’s very dangerous.”

The crowds at Waimea Bay filled just about every square foot of sand. Spectators also gathered on the highway above the bay and even in the hillsides — and trees — surrounding the surf spot.

In preparation for Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, the city ramped up bus service Sunday and encouraged those headed to the event to pack their patience — and prepare for a traffic nightmare.

Special Section: ‘The Eddie’

Many heeded the warning, opting to arrive in the wee hours of the morning and even on Saturday night.

Before the contest started, Clyde Aikau predicted the “gigantic” northwest swell would create perfect conditions for the big-wave contest, which hasn’t been held since 2016.

The event requires wave heights of at least 20 feet.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi dubbed the contest the “Super Bowl of surfing,” noting it is both a sporting event and a cultural gathering.

And it’s also expected to be a boon for businesses up and down the North Shore.

“Let’s make this a safe experience,” he urged.

This is the 34th year for the contest, but it has only run nine times.

And hitting the waves this year for the first time are women competing alongside the men.

Out of the 40 surfers set to compete, six are women.

“We’re watching history in the making right now,” said surfer and “The Eddie” participant Keala Kennelly.

“To actually be in here on this day and put on a jersey and paddle out ... and now it’s not just me, I’ll be there with five of my other sisters, you’re watching history in the making.”