A local lifeguard in Hawaii was the surprise winner of the prestigious Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, known as the “Super Bowl of surfing,” after beating some of the biggest names in the sport.
Taking approved breaks from his Waimea Bay lifeguard duty to compete in the event, affectionately known as Eddie, Luke Shepardson finished with a near-perfect score of 89.1 points, ahead of second-place defending champion John John Florence.
The 27-year-old accepted the award wearing his yellow lifeguard shirt and red shorts, saying it was a “dream come true” just to enter the competition on Sunday.
The Eddie only takes place when waves consistently reach a height of 20 feet during the winter months at Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore.
This was only the tenth time it has been held since its inception in 1987 and the first since 2016, when Florence took the title.
Other past winners include veteran surfers Kelly Slater in 2002 and Ross Clarke-Jones, who competed again this year, in 2001. No surfer has won the Eddie more than once.
The event is held in memory of big wave surfer Eddie Aikau, the first official lifeguard on the North Shore who died after volunteering to seek help when a canoe trip recreating an ancient Polynesian migration route suffered bad weather.
It seemed only fitting, then, that this year’s champion should also be a local lifeguard.
When he was announced the winner, Shepardson was hoisted onto the shoulders of his fellow competitors, doused with beer, and mobbed by onlookers eager for a photo.
He earned $10,000 for placing first 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 finished with 84.2 points ahead of Mark Healey in third and Billy Kemper in fourth.
This year also the women, six in total, participated in the competition for the first time, and it was Andrea Moller who made history as the first woman to catch a wave on the Eddie.
In 2016, Keala Kennelly became the first woman to be invited to the competition when she was named an alternate.
The huge waves in Waimea Bay produced a series of impressive, nerve-racking performances from those invited to participate in the Eddie this year.
The competition drew large crowds, who were instructed to keep behind a yellow tape near the shoreline to avoid being swept away by dangerous swells.
“I want to thank everyone for being here today,” said Clyde Aikau, the competition director and Eddie’s brother, during the awards ceremony.
“I want to commend each of the contestants who rowed because rowing today was a feat in itself, and congratulations to all the contestants.”