On His Breaks, Lifeguard Wins Big-Wave Competition

Luke Shepardson takes title at Eddie Aikau Invitational, then returns to tower
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 23, 2023 7:25 PM CST
On His Breaks, Lifeguard Wins Big-Wave Competition
Luke Shepardson is raised up by fellow big wave surfers Landon McNamara, left, and Billy Kemper after winning the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational at Waimea Bay on Sunday in Hawaii.   (Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP)

Other people might call or text friends when they're on a work break, or grab a coffee, or find something to eat. Luke Shepardson managed to win the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational while on duty Sunday as a Honolulu lifeguard, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. His supervisor allowed him to take longer breaks than usual to surf the 50-foot waves. It's not like the Waimea Bay lifeguards could coast Sunday: They were charged with keeping the 50,000 or so spectators safe and logged at least 64 rescues for the day. And Shepardson couldn't celebrate when he won because his shift wasn't over. "I've got to get back to the tower to make sure everyone's OK until the end of the day," he said.

The pandemic is one reason the competition hasn't been held for a few years. The other reason it has taken place only 10 times in 38 years is the need for waves that consistently hit 40 feet, per the Star-Advertiser. That was no problem Sunday. "It was super scary, the waves were huge," Shepardson said. One major wave carried an infant, who was unhurt, under a home along the beach. Lifeguards reported issuing more than 10,000 warnings to spectators who had moved too close to the shore break to watch the 40 competitors.

Dave Wassel, also a surfer and a lifeguard, said the huge waves made the invitational epic. "The excitement is overwhelming. It's big, it's beautiful," he said, per Hawaii News Now. "But don't forget, it’s very dangerous." Women competed for the first time in this year's event. Growing up, Keala Kennelly said, she had "amazing big-wave role models" but thought that she'd be excluded from being "a hero like that." She added, "But our ultimate hero was Eddie." Eddie Aikau was Waimea Bay's first lifeguard more than 50 years ago and—possibly on his breaks—a famed big-wave surfer. (More big-wave surfing stories.)

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