HONOLULU (KHON2) — The opening ceremony for one of the world’s most prestigious events, the 34th Annual Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, kicked off Friday afternoon on Oahu’s North Shore.

It is an epic event honoring legendary lifeguard and waterman, Eddie Aikau. His legacy carried on by his family, including brother Clyde Aikau.

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“He loved Hawaii,” Aikau said, fighting back tears. “And, he loved Hawaii’s people.”

“He just really embodies that Aloha spirit,” explained female surfer Keala Kennelly, who was the first female big wave rider to be invited to surf in the contest in 2017. “[Eddie Aikau’s] a legend, and legends never die.”

In its 34th year, it remains one of the premier surfing events on earth, in large part, because it requires surf to be consistently over 20 feet. Because of that, it has only run nine times in the past 33 years giving it a level of prestige unmatched by any other surfing contest.

The Invitational’s roster of invitees includes some of the biggest names in surfing including the 2016 winner, John John Florence.

“I just feel so honored to have been able to surf all of the events out here so far,” Florence said. “It’s a scary thing when it’s leading up to it, and you think it’s going to run. But, it’s also a special feeling when there’s 25 foot waves breaking on your head and you’re next to your friends; and there’s some of the best watermen in the world.”

“When I was a little girl growing up in Hawaii, the Eddie was everything; and as a little girl, I just didn’t even think it was possible for a female to be involved in something like this,” Kennelly said. “My first time being invited was 2017, so I haven’t gotten to actually put on the jersey and go out into the water. But, just being a part of this event every year and being honored to be selected is just everything.”

The opening ceremony was filled with live entertainment, a special Hawaiian blessing to keep everyone safe and a paddle out at Waimea Bay.

For first timer Jake Maki, who’s also the youngest invitee at 18-years-old, the experience is surreal.

“This is such a dream come true,” Maki said. “I look around here, these are people I’ve looked up to my whole life so I’m super honored to be here with these guys. And, to represent and honor Eddie Aikau is super special, too.”

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“It’s just more being a part of the ocean,” Florence said. “I think Eddie really represented that and looking out for others the way he did and so for us to kind of keep alive his memory today. I think it’s pretty incredible, especially for my generation and generations to come.”

The holding period for the Eddie runs from December 14, 2022 through March 23, 2023.