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Emi Erickson Photo: Shannon Reporting

Surviving Giants / Second Generation Waimea Bay Charger, Emi Erickson

A Big Wave Series by Shannon Reporting

The unofficial queen of Waimea Bay, Emily Erickson has followed in her legendary father’s footsteps as one of the North Shore’s best big wave surfers. Dedicated to traditional single fins, you’ve probably seen her now-iconic black striped Lyle Carlson 10’6’’ gun. It’s taken on a life of its own, so she says. From the outer reef of the Hawaiian Islands to the cold waters of Peru, the O‘ahu-born charger definitely has the travel bug, always keen for new adventure and new experiences. At 30-years-young, the future for her career and women’s big wave surfing is limitless.

I’ve had the pleasure of traveling with this lovely wahine throughout her competitive campaign–through the highs of a win in Nelscott Reef, Oregon, and a second place in pumping Puerto Escondido Cup, and through the lows of a season-ending knee injury during the Pe‘ahi Challenge in which she underwent emergency surgery. But that didn’t stop her one bit! Training hard during recovery, in-tune with a healthy diet and physical fitness, Emi is tough as nails with thick skin. She believes in herself and the sport, her roots in soul surfing are deep and strong. She has proven her skills in the big wave arena, so much so that this winter her biggest dream has been realized as an official invitee to The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. Once again, following in the foot-steps of veteran lifeguard Roger Erickson, who also surfed in a handful of Eddie events, Emi has paved a way not only for herself, but for the women to have absolutely no excuses not to charge big waves and live their dreams.

Emi Erickson would go, and she will go as soon as the Bay calls the day. Surfing amongst the men’s lineup of top big wave elite, she has earned her spot with love and dedication, and there’s no stopping her. Freesurf Mag had the honor of documenting a unique shaping experience on the North Shore, as shaper Lyle Carlson and the legend himself, Roger Erickson, helped make a replica of his traditional single-fin gun with his daughter to surf in the most prestigious event of its kind–The Eddie.

Congratulations are in order for your invitation to The Eddie Aikau!
Thank you! It feels really incredible to be honest. I love surfing the Bay. For every big wave surfer, it is the dream. It feels like the continuation of my journey, pretty fateful. I love it; I’m stoked!

You’ve been surfing the Bay for a while now, and you also have a legacy to follow at Waimea as the next generation following after your father [Roger Erickson]. How does it feel to follow in the footsteps of your family?
It’s crazy because when you’re growing up, you don’t always want to end up like your parents. I never really thought about that too much, but it’s weird to realize how similar we all really are. With surfing, the continuation (whether it’s the board, the style, or the knowledge) and whatever we bring to it. I’ve been able to carry on a lot of things unintentionally, which is why I allude to the faithful side of things. It just feels right. It’s pretty cool when you carry the torch for the single fins, family, women’s rights and equality, and a change in the way society works—especially here on the North Shore. It is so trippy… [laughs].

Emi Erickson, Cloudbreak photo: Shannon Reporting

There definitely seems to be a changing of the guard. What does it mean for women to finally be invited to The Eddie?
A decade ago, when I fell back into surfing and surf culture, I immediately loved big waves. And when you start something from that angle, just doing something that you love, even having the background that I do like dad being part of the first handful of Eddie’s, big wave surfing, and lifeguarding knowledge—which is what we celebrate with Eddie every year. Everyone on the North Shore is more than aware of this: it doesn’t seem like a very likely outcome as a woman that you’ll be invited. But I, personally, have very strong conviction with the things I feel connected to and the things I am supposed to do. So it feels like an incredible honor, but also an inedible move forward in my personal journey, and also for the Aikau family and the progression of the contest. The memory of Eddie also has to evolve, you know; we have to celebrate each other and look out for one another. It’s about selflessness, but you can’t be selfless if you’re restricted to only one gender. That’s not selfless at all. So it’s a really important lesson that is just getting started. It will be really cool to see where it goes.

Other than Dad, who do you look up to for inspiration?
I know it sounds weird, but I’m like the old man in a young woman’s body. I started boogie boarding at Sunset and just fell in love. I survived and learned a lot about the water, and the next year I was into surfing; that’s kind of my story. I got right into big waves on old school guns because that’s what Dad had laying around, and at that point (over a decade ago) some of the much older guys were still out there. Buttons [Kaluhiokalani] stands out, because he always had such an infectiously positive attitude, and especially towards me. He was such a big supporter. Anytime I’d see him in the surf he’d say, “Just go! Screw those guys.” [Laughs] Having that kind of energy around you is incredibly helpful. It’s a great reminder and example of the things that I’d like to embody, too, so that I can affect other people in positive ways like he affected me…. Other than that, I’ve learned a lot from all the old guys. It’s funny; it’s really hard to pick just one person that stands out.

Many of the tourists visiting Waimea seem more fascinated by the shorebreak. What’s it like getting in and out of there?
Oh gosh… There’s a lot of current in the Bay when the waves are big. Where it’s breaking on the point when you’re looking out from the beach is where it’s going to have lots of water moving with so much power, and it circulates in the Bay. So if you’re trying to get in the water to go surf, you have to time it with the shorebreak and the incoming sets, plus the current that’s going to be running through—especially after the sets—in order to try to make it out in the middle. There are also big lefts coming into the Bay that if you get caught in, you’re smoked. That’s not very fun.

Emi Erickson shaping with Lyle Carlson. Photo: Shannon-Reporting

Describe the wave when it’s proper Waimea.
When Waimea is really big, it’s in a different category from 10-15 foot Pinballs. Those are exciting times as well, but when it’s over 18 ft, the wave starts to change. Now, 18-20 ft — that’s really a beautiful size to surf the Bay because the sets are going to be the way I like it: super walled, with this big mountain of water coming at you. You have to know what you’re doing and have the conviction to put your head down and paddle. It’s really fun… [smiles and sighs] What was the question again?

You had great results last season in the competitive realm (winning in Nelscott Reef, second in Puerto Escondido, and third in the Pe’ahi Challenge) all on your recognizable Lyle Carlson surfboard. That single-fin seems to be working well for you. And today, you’re making a replica?
Eight years ago we made my infamous black stripe board, which has since then taken on a life of its own. Inspired by The Eddie Aikau announcement, we came back to make another. Mahalo to Jimbo Yarborough for letting us borrow his shaping room, and to Shannon Reporting for Freesurf Magazine for being there to witness.