spite of my general apathy towards big wave competitions, I really got into The Eddie. I think it’s partly the rarity of it. Birthdays are boring as shit because they happen every year, but give me one every six or seven years, and only then if I meet a set of specific and highly unlikely criteria, and I’d be right up for it! There’s something raw about The Eddie, something visceral. It could be the gladiatorial, amphitheater-style setting and the fact that it’s a common garden-variety beachbreak. It could be the thick set men with their improbable boards, or it might be that there’s always the chance some unwitting spectator gets carried away by a massive surge. Suffice to say, I thought it was bloody splendid entertainment. But undoubtedly the greatest thing about The Eddie this year was Clyde Aikau.
What a hero. Could there be a more fitting tribute to the legend of Eddie Aikau than his own brother (who won the inaugural contest) tackling some of the most challenging conditions the event has ever seen, and at the ripe old age of 66 years old? I can’t think of anything more befitting of Eddie’s memory. As someone with three brothers whom I have the utmost respect for, it makes me well up just thinking about it.
I actually think that Clyde Aikau’s performance is deserving of recognition outside of surfing. The Eddie is more than just a contest; we know that. It’s forever difficult to compare surfing to other sports, but for argument’s sake I thought it would be interesting to look at the feats of Clyde Aikau in the wider context of professional sporting achievement. It has to be top level, because despite not exactly being high performance surfing, Waimea Bay and The Eddie do represent some of the most challenging conditions our “sport” can offer. (I’ll tell you this – Filipe Toledo would have soiled himself and ran home at the sight of those waves).
So the other professional athletes who have competed in their twilight years and might be comparable to Clyde Aikau are as follows:
Contender 1: Saoul Mamby, an American boxer who held a WBC junior title (pretty meaningless since there are more belts than boxers in the sport) and made an unsuccessful professional comeback at 60 years old.
Result: No contest. Clyde is 6 years older, a far more recognizable figure in his own sport, and could probably even out-box this guy.
Contender 2: Gary Player, South African golfing legend with multiple titles to his name. Competed in his last major tournament (The Masters) in 2009 at 73 years old.
Result: If there is a golfing equivalent to The Eddie it might just be The Masters. Player was a good 7 years older than Clyde, but I severely doubt the skinny old bastard would survive a set on the head at Waimea. And let’s be serious. It’s golf. Aikau wins again.
Contender 3: Skip Hall, MMA fighter who fought professionally at 63 years old, despite not debuting until his late 50s.
Result: MMA is hardcore, and you’ve got to respect a guy who steps up to the plate in his 60s, but I still think I’d prefer a few fists, knees, elbows or anything else to the face than a Waimea closeout! Victory for Clyde.
Honorable mentions to: Tim Duncan (39), Kevin Garnett (39), and Dan Henderson (45). All legends still competing (more or less) at the top of their respective games, but if they’re still banging in 20 years, give me a shout!
These are the only contenders, aside from a couple of examples in darts, snooker and cricket, and those aren’t even real sports.
So there you have it. Conclusive proof (based on loose internet research) that Clyde Aikau is the greatest old man in sport! Hell, he might be the greatest old man in the world. If I’m anything other than a fat mess at 66 years old, I’ll consider that an achievement. John Florence’s performance was great, but for me, Clyde Aikau was the real winner of The Eddie.