WAIMEA BAY, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's own John John Florence clinched the title at the Eddie Aikau big-wave contest Thursday, becoming the youngest ever to win the competition.
The 23-year-old won the elite big-wave contest, held just nine times since 1984, with a combined score of 301.
"It's definitely the highlight of my life, for sure," Florence said, after being named the winner. "I was so nervous. I've lived here my whole life. It's the most amazing energy down here. People were just screaming, the energy was just crazy."
Australian surfer Ross Clark-Jones took second place in the competition, and Hawaii's Shane Dorian rounded out the top three.
It's considered a huge honor to win the Eddie, not only to remember its namesake, but also because of the rarity of the event.
The Eddie only occurs when consistent, rideable waves of at least 30 feet are in Waimea Bay during the narrow three-month winter holding period.
Florence came into the competition as a must-watched wunderkind. He started surfing monster waves in his early teens, and has often been compared to 11-time World Surf League champion Kelly Slater.
Organizers officially announced the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau a "go" about 7:20 a.m. Wednesday, after ensuring conditions were favorable enough for the contest.
Thousands of spectators battled traffic and parking woes to make it to the all-day event. The city said traffic back-ups started late Wednesday, and by early Thursday the North Shore was already jammed with surfing enthusiasts.
Spectator Mike Perkins got to Waimea Bay a full 24 hours before the competition started to secure a coveted spot. He was also at the bay earlier this month, when the surf contest got a "green alert" but ultimately wasn't given a "go" because big surf didn't materialize.
On Thursday morning, he was cooking breakfast burritos on the beach. "This is a cure-all for anything you might have done the night before," he said.
Rather than grabbing a spot at the beach, Mike Hedge was standing on the mauka side of the highway to watch the waves. He didn't mind.
"This is perfect," he said. "I mean, nothing in front of us."
The decision on whether to hold the contest was a nail-biter. But organizers were confident the contest was a "go" when daylight revealed even bigger and more rideable waves than anticipated. By 8 a.m., the Eddie kicked off with the world's best surfers ready to charge the waves.
Officials earlier in the week gave Thursday's event a "green alert," meaning they were optimistic that surf conditions were ideal enough to begin preparing for the contest.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service said the massive swell would produce 50-foot surf along north shores, prompting them to issue a High Surf Warning through Friday.