HONOLULU - A one-day surfing contest held only in extreme conditions was under way for the first time in five years Tuesday, thanks to the massive waves pounding Oahu's famed North Shore.
Thousands gathered at Waimea beach to watch the world's top surfers rocket down waves 30 feet high. Some arrived at 4 a.m. for a good spot, while others camped out all night.
Popularly known as "The Eddie," the competition is held only when waves top 20 feet in Waimea Bay. This is only the eighth time the conditions have been right since the event was founded in 1984.
Many of the 28 competitors are professional surfers, including Kelly Slater, Bruce Irons and Sunny Garcia. Entrants are selected by a poll of surfers.
"We want guys who can't wait to pull themselves over the ledge and drop into a 25-foot wave," said Bob McKnight, president of Quiksilver, the event's sponsor. He was at a meeting in 1984 that led to the founding of the event.
The contest is held in honor of Eddie Aikau, a legendary Hawaiian surfer, Waimea Bay lifeguard and waterman. Aikau died in 1978 at the age of 31 when the traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe he was on capsized en route from Hawaii to Tahiti. Aikau paddled on his surfboard toward Hawaii's Lanai island, 19 miles away, to get help but never returned. The rest of the crew was rescued soon after.
Clyde Aikau, Eddie's brother and 1987 winner of "The Eddie," is competing at age 60. He said his family was humbled by the contest.
"It's always cool to surf for Eddie," Clyde Aikau said in a television interview Tuesday after riding a wave.
"Hawaiians call it chicken-skin to have so much support for Eddie over all these years," he said, using the local slang for goose bumps. "It's a tremendous feeling."
The winner will take home to $55,000, while the total purse is $98,000.
Slater, of Florida, led after the first round with a total score of 290. Slater won the event in 2002 and is a nine-time world champion. Irons, a Hawaii resident and the 2004 champion, was in second place with 227 points. Australian Ross Clarke-Jones was in third.
Another round was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
The National Weather Service is forecasting 30- to 40-foot waves, with some sets approaching 50 feet on the outer reefs as Hawaii remains under a high surf warning.
The high surf was caused by two large storms northwest of Hawaii.
The storms were expected to send significant — but smaller — waves to the West Coast of the U.S. mainland Wednesday and Thursday, said Jonathan Hoag, a National Weather Service forecaster in Honolulu.