A Glimpse of The Eddie, the World’s Biggest Surf Contest

We caught up with big wave surf photographer Zak Noyle on the eve of The Eddie Aikau.

When we visited Honolulu last month, the whole island of Oahu was abuzz with speculation on upcoming swells—would the waves be big enough for The Eddie? The legendary surf contest, held in memory of the original big wave surfer and lifeguard, Eddie Aikau—who tragically disappeared at sea—only occurs when conditions are just right: 40-foot-plus waves and light winds. Every winter the world’s best surfers are invited to participate in the event and asked to stand by during a three-month-long holding period; if the Eddie is on, they’ll have to drop everything and fly to Hawaii on a moment’s notice. Announced on Monday, the contest is on for tomorrow—for the first time in seven years and the ninth time since the event’s inception.

Since we can’t hop a flight to Honolulu, we’re going to be keeping a close eye on photographer Zak Noyle’s Instagram account (@zaknoyle) tomorrow—who will also be posting on behalf of the event's host, surf brand Quiksilver (@quiksilver). The 30-year-old, award-winning surf photographer is the only person who will be shooting the event in just his fins from the water, just as he did at the last event six years ago—at the ripe age of 24—in 2009. Zak took a few minutes to catch up with us while en-route to Waimea Bay.

What does the Eddie represent for you? The Eddie represents a lot more to me then just a contest. It represents the sacrifice and courage Eddie put forth to save others without thinking. To be included as a small part in the whole event is just mind blowing. I grew up with the posters of the Eddie event on my walls all my childhood. 

How did you get your start in big wave surf photography? Big waves have always amazed me and left me speechless. It takes careful planning to find and know the conditions, as well as be safe while out shooting them. When the 2009 Eddie Aikau came around many were asked to cover the event from the water but declined when told they would not have access to a ski. I was young and ambitious and accepted quickly, only realizing what I had gotten myself into afterwards. It ended up being the greatest shoot I had ever done. Since then I have been hooked on finding massive waves to shoot. 

What’s your approach, and what safety precautions do you take? My approach will be to watch and monitor the conditions carefully before entering the water, and listening to the observations and concerns of the lifeguards and Hawaiian Water Patrol before entering and while in the water. I swim four to five times weekly in a pool, along with various other exercises to make sure that when moments of swimming are needed I am ready to go. 

What’s going through your head when you’re out there in the water trying to get the shot? The only thing going through my head at that moment as I shoot is how lucky I am to be doing what I love on the word's largest stage! I take a deep breath, steady my hands, hold a steady water tread so as to not shake, and shoot my image. 

Who are you most excited to see (and shoot) tomorrow? I watch all of these surfers almost on a daily basis and have developed close friendships with many of them. Being able to see them in these large waves will be interesting as the level of surfing will be taken to great and higher heights. 

Any lessons from shooting the last competition that you’ll be taking with you tomorrow? Just really enjoy myself and be in the moment. It's going to be an amazing day!