The Unsung Heroes of the 2016 Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau

By Chris Latronic   Photos Tony Heff

Imagine having the job of being the premier water safety team for the biggest event of surfing history in the most gnarl-binding Waimea Bay conditions you’ve ever seen. Unless you were part of the Hawaiian Water Patrol guarding the participants during the 2016 Quiksilver In Memory Of Eddie Aikau that day, you can keep dreaming. Most only know what you saw on the live broadcast (which was no doubt spectacular) or what you felt and saw 1/2 mile away on the beach or in an awkward posture amongst your self-made perch. What was it like to literally be in the belly of the beast while providing safety on that pinnacle of a day? We caught up with the HWP to recap their heroic experience, from the historic conditions to the iconic cowboys and indians-like chase scene during the biggest closeout of the day.

BROCK’S SWELL

“Every part of involvement with that event was taken to the max,” said Rocky Canon, age 36. “The waves set the tone, the swell early on, the conditions, the surfers stepped up to the plate to go out and charge and the water safety committed to being at the tail end of every wipeout, every ride or at least having someone vigilant and watching every move for every surfer.”

“I’ve been around for 5 of the 9 Eddies that were run but this one was the biggest,” said Kawika Foster, age 42. “I’ve seen it closeout before, but never this consistent.”

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“It was really, really, really big. It was the biggest and most consistent we’ve ever seen it,” said Kyle Pao, age 31. “A lot of us have sat in the lifeguard towers for years but we were pretty baffled at what we were experiencing out there.”

“I’ve been privileged to work 8 of the 9 Eddie’s,” said Steve Machin, age 49. “By far, this one was the biggest and definitely put all of us to the test that Uncle Terry has passed down to us. It’s something going into the books as one of those epic days and nobody got hurt.”

“I’ve been apart of every Eddie,” said Abe Lerner, age 43. “This was the biggest, the best, the most adrenaline, most fun for sure. It’s the Super Bowl of surfing.”

“You could feel it building. It wasn’t big big yet but you could tell something was going to happen,” said Clifton Botelho, age 41. “Hawaiian Water Patrol is like a band of brothers. I can trust anyone on the team, the North Shore boys and West Side family as well.”

“Everybody was saying it was Brock’s swell,” said Terry Ahue. “That day…the adrenaline during the event was flowing. I couldn’t  ask for a better bunch of guys out there on that day.”

THE SET

“During that big closeout set we all tried to get outside but we saw that only Pomai made over, then the set began to feather,” said Kawika Foster, age 42. “The rest of us had to turn it around towards the beach looking for a safe area.  But every time I looked back it kept getting uglier and  growing closer to us.  The pre-game plan for this case was to beach it in, be safe out there and  just come in. Other than that, everything went pretty smooth.  Everyone finished the day safe. Everyone was focused… they were charging.  Especially Koa Rothman, he had no fear in his eyes.”

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“Six of them can’t get passed this 35-footer,” said Canon. “There’s 5 jet skis coming in, I’ve seen 1, 2 maybe even 3 get chased in… 6 of them all come into the sand. I used the words unprecedented and historic on the mic and to say ‘give the Hawaiian Water Patrol a round of applause’, it was like a James Bond movie…the beach was really showing their love. There’s no shame in getting chased by a 35-foot closeout. The boys looked like studs and stallions coming in on that huge wave and riding up the beach and getting that ovation from the crowd. It was a great memory for the everybody.”

“One of the waves must have been 60 feet at least,” said Lerner. “I didn’t want to mess up the wave for Mason Ho, who came close to us, about 50 yards away. After the contest I said ‘hey Mason, I hope I didn’t mess up the wave for you’. He said ‘No, no. At that moment I was thinking about switching stance’.  I said… You thought about switching stance on a 60 footer?”

“At the end of the day, I caught a wave in on the jetski, hit the beach and I was safe! It was all good from there,” said Pomai Ho’opili. “We cracked open a few and talked story about all our different angles.  It was a cool experience. I’m blessed to have this job. Working with all these guys everyday I learn so much. Everyday something is happening and you gotta be able to adapt.  That’s the Hawaiian Water Patrol way.”

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