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READER POLL 2017
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Wanna win a new surfboard? We have a custom Chilli ‘Black Vulture’ to gift (plus all the trim you’d expect from a premium dealer). To be in the running, just answer a few questions for us. It won’t take long.

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Close READER POLL 2017
We promise this won't (really) hurt.

Wanna win a new surfboard? We have a custom Chilli ‘Black Vulture’ to gift (plus all the trim you’d expect from a premium dealer). To be in the running, just answer a few questions for us. It won’t take long.

Rocky Relations, Hurt Feelings, And Bureaucratic SNAFUS: The Eddie’s Bad Divorce

The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau is a vicious pain in the ass if you live on Oahu's North Shore. Crowds build clifftop at the slightest rumor of an Eddie greenlight. Traffic grinds to a halt along Kam Highway, despite contest organizers' best efforts to keep it flowing. Woe betide those with shit to do on the rare occasions it runs. Pre-dawn mobs effectively close roads leaving the North Shore. The only way out of the seven mile miracle an eastward trek towards Kahuku, Laie, and Punalu'u.

Despite the nuisance, the Eddie is widely embraced—life grinding to a halt for a single day is a minor inconvenience compared to more egregious annoyances. Less of a problem than those damn Laniakea turtles. Nothing compared to the Triple Crown.

Not everyone surfs on the North Shore. The majority of people spend their days oblivious to the grown men and women who've built lives around playing in the ocean. But when an Eddie swell hits, the mist fills the air, the energy pulses up from the ground, everyone notices. Everyone cares.

The Eddie is a part of the North Shore. A piece of its heritage, that deep-rooted hellman culture that infests single wall rentals from Mokuleia to Kawela Bay.

Brock Little's barrel, Bruce Irons linking one into the shorepound. Kelly Slater's attention to detail, snatching victory from the jaws of Tony Ray. I screamed along with the crowd in 2009, when Greg Long stroked into a hideous closeout and stared down the lip as it ate him alive. The entire island of Oahu lost its shit when John John took the win. These are moments burnt into our collective memory, a special event that existed both within, and outside of, the competitive format. An invitation validates a lifetime's effort. Winning is just icing on the cake.

This year, for the first time since the inaugural event was held at Sunset Beach in 1984, there will be no Eddie Opening Ceremony. No gathering of the highest order of big wave surfing, perhaps the most widely coveted and well-respected invitation in all of surfing. A split between Quiksilver and the Aikau family has left the event's future uncertain, while Quiksilver's longstanding permit at Waimea will soon be up for grabs.

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This year there will be no gathering of the highest order of big wave surfing, perhaps the most widely coveted and well-respected invitation in all of surfing.

Glen Moncata, Quiksilver's VP of sales and marketing in Hawaii, the man who has run the contest since its inception, compares the situation to a "bad divorce,” rife with hurt feelings and confusion, and an utter inability for an outside observer to understand how something so beautiful could go so terribly wrong. It's tough to get to the truth of the matter here, because the truth is that there is no objective truth. Only shades of subjectivity and a situation where everyone involved feels they've been done wrong.

Further muddying the waters is the Aikau family's decision to circle the wagons, stymying attempts to learn both sides of the story. A spokesperson for their attorney returned my call to say that they will not be commenting publicly until they have released an official statement. It's a position that no amount of wheedling could change. An astute decision, there being little to be gained by feeding conflicting information into the drama surrounding the cancellation.

Unfortunately, it leaves interested parties forced to piece together motivations and stumbling blocks through the words of a single side.

The cracks first appeared last year. At that time, according to Aikau family attorney, Seth Reiss, “The family’s primary concern [was] that the event would lose connection with Eddie Aikau and what he represented…It was the non-monetary issues that were difficult for the parties. The parties tried to work it through and they haven’t been able to.”

Quiksilver's Moncata denied that there were any plans to change the format. “Even all the pressure that we’ve had from surfers who were in the contest, the media and stuff, we’ve always kept true to what the standards were going to be,” he told KHON2. “We said, you know, if we’re going to make this a real Eddie, it’s got to be solid 20-foot Hawaiian surf at Waimea Bay — and we have kept that statement the whole time. We’ve never, never swayed from that.” 

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"You can't transfer permits," said Nathan Serota, Public Information Officer for the Honolulu County Department of Parks and Recreation. "That's one of the big things. Because we didn't want people taking out, applying for a lot of permits, and selling them. That was the concern that we had. Because there are a limited amount that we allow for the North Shore surf season."

Quiksilver publicly offered to turn its 2016-2017 permit over to the Aikau family. However Oahu’s shorewater event regulations specifically disallow this. “Any transfer, assignment, sale, grant or relinquishment of the permit shall automatically null and void the permit."

The Mayor's office, in response to the possibility the event would not run, stepped in and offered to make an exception wherein they would allow both the Aikau family and Quiksilver place operations in the hands of a third party while Quiksilver remained the permit holder.

The exception proved unnecessary when Quiksilver and the Aikau family managed to reach a last minute accord. The opening ceremony took place and the waiting period commenced. An Eddie worthy swell failed to materialize.

Perhaps foreseeing future difficulties, Moncata claims that, when Quiksilver received the permit for 2017-2018, "We gave the permit to the Aikaus...when we got it we turned it over to them."

When reminded that the City and County had previously stated they would not allow a transfer, Moncata responded, "The County did for [the Aikaus]."

I contacted the County in an attempt to verify Moncata's claim that the permit for this winter had been transferred. While the Honolulu mayor, Kirk Caldwell, had stated that it was not a possibility, it's a fact that rules often bend in the name of pumping money into Hawaii's economy.

"You can't transfer permits," said Nathan Serota, Public Information Officer for the Honolulu County Department of Parks and Recreation. "That's one of the big things. Because we didn't want people taking out, applying for a lot of permits, and selling them. That was the concern that we had. Because there are a limited amount that we allow for the North Shore surf season."

Honolulu City spokesman Andrew Pereira agrees that the permits are non-transferable, though he reiterated that the city might be willing to make certain concessions in order to successfully run the Eddie.

"They are not supposed to be transferable. But, then, if two parties can come to an agreement then we would certainly support that agreement. If there's a working relationship, so the original awardee retained the permit, that name of person or organization is still on the permit, but if they want to go and collaborate with somebody else and bring them on to run the contest, then that's something we'd look at and might support."

Though Moncata has publicly expressed a willingness to work with the Aikau family in coming years, when asked whether Quiksilver would apply for permits in the future he responded, "I doubt it. We're over it. It's kind of like a bad divorce. We've kind of figured out, we've tried our hardest as far as, you know, trying to put something together with them and it didn't come. They have different views than we do. As simple as that. You know, it's not the only thing we do. Come on...

"It saddens everybody at Quiksilver that we couldn't come to an agreement, but, you know, when lawyers get a hold of contracts it's really tough; it's a he said/she said kind of thing. You know, we've been in negotiations with them for almost two years. Last year we took it on at the last minute and, you know, this year the WSL pulled out. We got Red Bull to come in and partner with it and then Red Bull had to do their thing with the WSL to get the surfers. It just got to a point where you're swimming upstream.

"We put in, if you read our press release, that we are open to negotiations for next year, and the year after. It just got so late. This is a massive thing to put together. People don't realize, but when you're building a mini-city and you've got three days to put it together, it's a hard thing to do. And, you know, we don't have the invite list done, we don't have any... by this time I would have been in meetings with the City and County, parks, the Department of Transportation, the bus system, parking, barricades... It took us a long time to get from where we started to what it turned into. Every year there were different things the City and County required us to do. You know, the biggest thing, if you've been around here, is the traffic on the North Shore. The last couple years, since we put the barricades up, you've got a pretty smooth flow out there. Because nobody can park up on the hill, and you can't stop in the middle of the road, things like that. Two years ago I had fourteen police officers there, not including the on-beat police officers that were just on the North Shore.

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Having failed once, nearly twice, to successfully stage the event, there is a strong possibility that future years could find permits granted to a different entity. Possibly leading to a feeding frenzy during the application process similar to that which takes place on the rest of the North Shore each year. Furthermore, having already withdrawn their sanctioning of this year's Eddie, whether or not WSL competitors will be allowed to compete in the future is up in the air.

"I understand that they want their thing and, you know, we can only do so much. It comes to a point, where, economically, is it worth doing?"

I pointed out that Quiksilver receives a colossal amount of exposure from the Eddie each year, whether it runs or not. That it seems strange the company wasn't willing to do whatever it took to retain their grip on one of the most famous surf contests in the world. In the past the World Surf League has claimed that the Triple Crown delivers one billion dollars worth of promotional value each year. If the Eddie provides a fraction of that value it would justify accepting nearly any demand.

"You know, a lot of people think that, but, you know, I mean, our product sales weren't even close to what people think. Everybody has this kind of idea that, 'Oh, Quiksilver's making millions of dollars off of this contest' and, well, we get a lot of advertising, but as far as making any money, even with product and stuff, with the cost of the event it still doesn't break even.

"You guys are people from the outside who don't really realize what it takes to run an event.

"That's a big thing. None of these events are easy to run. The City and County has their rules, the state has their rules, everybody's got their rules and when you start looking at it, when you see something of this magnitude, the Eddie, everybody starts getting nervous, because it's probably the number one sporting event in Hawaii."

With a situation this unclear it is impossible, and unnecessary, to assign blame to either party. In the end the two sides were unable to reach an agreement and for the first winter in over three decades the surf world will not buzz every time a large Northwest swell aims itself at the Hawaiian archipelago.

The Eddie will no longer be a foregone conclusion. The permit process employs an arcane point system that, according to Honolulu City spokesman Andrew Pereira,"takes into account their traffic mitigation plan, outreach to the community, efforts to improve their community. There's a whole scoring system that goes into the panel scoring those applications. 

"But, generally an outlet like the World Surf League does such a good job of doing outreach to the community and so on and so forth that they generally secure their permits."

Serota, Information Officer for the permit issuing agency, agrees. He also pointed out that "the ability to hold the event, to get everything lined up, safety-wise, traffic control-wise, it certainly plays a factor in the permitting. The ability to hold the contest is certainly taken into account."

Having failed once, nearly twice, to successfully stage the event, there is a strong possibility that future years could find permits granted to a different entity. Possibly leading to a feeding frenzy during the application process similar to that which takes place on the rest of the North Shore each year. Furthermore, having already withdrawn their sanctioning of this year's Eddie, whether or not WSL competitors will be allowed to compete in the future is up in the air.

In the past there has been very little competition for the Waimea permits, due to the restrictions on overlapping holding periods and the three month length of the Eddie's.

According to Serota, "I think that most people have stayed away from it because the Eddie has such a long holding period. You cannot have a holding period for the same area for two different events. You can't have an event at Waimea that has the same holding period for the Eddie, for a big wave surf competition, because it's so long, for three months. Generally folks have just stayed away from taking out permit applications for that area."

But changing the name, or sponsors, would have no affect on the permit granted. Whoever successfully applies will maintain the same exclusivity that Quiksilver has long enjoyed.

Serota went on to state that the County would be open to an entirely new event:

"The stipulation for the exception that I mentioned,a three month period where other events can happen at different sites, generally it's for a big wave surfing event. It doesn't have to be named 'In memory of Eddie Aikau.' If it changed names it wouldn't change the exception, the privilege that's allowed to the big wave surf event. Our rules just say that it's a big wave surf event that can have that longer holding period. If it was a different name it wouldn't have a different impact."

Contests will eventually continue to run each winter at Waimea, but it is looking increasingly unlikely that the name Aikau will be featured on the banners. A terrible loss for our weird little subculture, but one that seems inevitable.

On the bright side, if you're the type who looks for one, there's the solace of knowing that those magic days, that confluence of massive swell, consistency, and perfect weather will no longer be privately held. For this winter, at least, Eddie won’t go.

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