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60-foot swells mean rare surfing meet is a go in Hawaii

Eddie Aikau big wave surf competition opening ceremony.


KGMB

Last Updated Feb 25, 2016 7:44 PM EST

HALIEWA, Hawaii -- The Eddie was "a go" as a powerful and sustained swell produced huge surf on Oahu's North Shore on Thursday.

Before the sun came up over the horseshoe-shaped Waimea Bay, organizers huddled together to make the final call on the invitation-only big-wave competition that hasn't been held in six years.

The event in memory of local lifeguard and big-wave surfer Eddie Aikau went forward as towering waves met the founder's strict minimum requirements.

The rules say waves must be 40 feet high, and the swell should have enough sustained power to last all day. The winds have to be right, the time of the tide is taken into account, and once everything falls into place the word is given.

Crowds already started gathering at the bay on Wednesday night and continued flooding in by Thursday morning, CBS affiliate KGMB reported.

Eddie Aikua's brother, Clyde, announced to a large crowd early Thursday morning that his brother's namesake surfing contest was on.

"I've been riding Waimea Bay for over 40 years, and today has to be one of the best days I've ever seen," Aikau said. "It is a go!" he added as the crowd came alive with whistles, cheers and applause.

They got what they hoped for as huge sets of monster waves crashed onto the outer reef of the bay, producing some waves that organizers estimate were about 60 feet tall.

Clyde Aikau is the only competitor to surf in all eight previous competitions and is the oldest at 66 to compete in this year's event. Thursday will be his last time surfing in the contest, he said.

Aikau said the event isn't about fame or money, it's about honoring his brother's legacy of helping others and his passion for the ocean. "We are humbled and privileged," he said.

One competitor, Ramon Navarro, the son of a fisherman from south Chile, embodies Eddie's spirit, said event spokeswoman and longtime Aikau family friend Jodi Wilmott.

Navarro is a "very unassuming, a very humble character," Wilmott said. "He has a higher vision."

In 2009, when Navarro was invited to his first Eddie competition, he awed the crowd when he rode the biggest wave of the day, scoring a perfect 100 on the monster breaker that towered over him.

"Eddie was a higher vision guy, too," Wilmott said. "He had loftier goals for humanity, and he understood the power of relationships. That is just the spirit Ramon has tapped into."

Navarro came to the North Shore and worked his way into the surfing community by building mud brick ovens and selling empanadas to beachgoers, Wilmott said.

Navarro surfed in the first heat of the morning on Thursday, and despite only catching one wave out of a possible four, earning him a mere 5 points out of 100, Navarro said he was just happy to be involved in the event.

"This is my dream," Navarro said after drying off after his hour-long session.

The competition began in 1984, six years after Eddie Aikau died.

As a lifeguard, Eddie Aikau is said to have never had a fatality while on duty. When the surf was too big for most in Waimea Bay and the crowds cleared out, Aikau would grab his surfboard and take on the biggest waves around.

Ultimately, however, Aikau gave his life to the ocean in a final attempt to save others. The 31-year-old Aikau was part of a team that was attempting to trace the route of their Polynesian ancestors from Hawaii to Tahiti aboard the traditional Hokulea canoe in 1978.

The vessel encountered rough seas and capsized. Aikau took his surfboard and paddled away for help. He was never seen again, though the rest of the crew was eventually rescued.

In Round 2, Australia's Ross Clarke-Jones was leading with a combined score of 278, KGMB reported.