HALEIWA, Hawaii (KHON2) — Less than 24 hours after winning what is widely believed to be the world’s most iconic surfing event, new Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational champion Luke Shepardson was back at his day job.
On another picturesque but chilly January morning on the North Shore, a hooded Shepardson was seen patrolling the soft sands of ‘Ehukai Beach Park in an ATV as part of his duties as a lifeguard for the City & County of Honolulu.
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“I still can’t believe it’s real, but it’s real,” Shepardson told KHON2. “I just can’t believe it. It makes me want to cry. It’s out of my wildest dreams. I can’t believe it.”
Shepardson’s Sunday started with lifeguard duty at Waimea Bay to assist spectators and fellow surfers in The Eddie before he competed it in himself and braved 50-foot waves en route to victory. He didn’t have much time to celebrate, as he went back to lifeguard duty that same afternoon.
“I woke up in the morning, got ready for work, got ready (for The Eddie) because I knew I was in the contest and showed up to work. We had quite a busy morning,” he recalled. “A lot of people were not heeding the warnings, they were going beyond the caution tape. We have the caution tape in places for a reason and a couple people almost got swept away first thing in the morning. Just doing announcements all day and it kind of helped because it took my mind off of the contest and I was just focused on what I do — being a lifeguard at work.
“Then when it was time for me to surf, it was just another day surfing and I was really stoked to get a few good waves and win the contest.
“The end of the day was back to work and trying to keep everyone safe, make sure everyone listened to our warnings and I’m glad everyone got home safely and there were only a few injuries. They’ll live to fight another day.”
Come Monday morning, it was back to work again for Shepardson.
“I don’t have any hours to take leave,” he joked. “This is what I do day in and day out so it’s just another day of coming to work and trying to keep people safe and make sure people come home alive to their families and keep everyone safe and keep doing what I do.”
Shepardson, 27, is a North Shore native who attended Kahuku High School for a year before dropping out. His friends call him “Casual Luke” due to his mellowness and laid-back nature.
Although Shepardson admitted his phone was flooded with congratulatory calls and texts afterwards, attempts to reach him on social media were moot. He deactivated his Instagram account a month and a half ago.
“I spent too much time on it. I try to live in the present world, not in the Instagram world,” Shepardson says.
As for what’s next, Shepardson contends that The Eddie remains the only competitive surfing event he’ll pursue.
Before he knocked off the likes of John John Florence, Billy Kemper, Ezekiel Lau, Kai Lenny and other prominent names in surfing, merely partaking in The Eddie was an immeasurable victory to Shephardson. It was his first time participating.
“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to compete in The Eddie and when I first got that invite (in 2017), I was beyond stoked. I couldn’t even imagine (competing). … At the end of my second heat (Sunday), I was crying because I was like, I just surfed an Eddie and that was the biggest dream of mine ever,” said Shephardson, who took home first place after earning 89.1 out of a possible 90 points.
Shepardson, who lists surf instructor as one of his past jobs, says he’ll cherish the opportunity to give lessons to his kids, ages 1 and 4, when the time is right.
Despite his overnight fame, Casual Luke still showed up to work on Monday and didn’t show any signs of changing. Tourists and fans stood just shy of yellow caution tape to congratulate Shephardson, who engaged in brief conversation and agreed to take photos with them.
“It’s a very special thing,” said fellow lifeguard Tau Hannemann, who has been on the job for 18 years. “I’d imagine Luke’s probably still in some shock but to be honest, I’m in shock as a fellow lifeguard and to see that happen, it’s gonna take some time to process but it gives me goosebumps and very, very proud of him and honored to have him represent us. It’s a great story. A Cinderella story.”
Monday appeared to be just another day on duty for Shepardson, who calls his four years as a C&C of Honolulu lifeguard “the best job in the world.”
“Mother Nature is no joke. You can never fight Mother Nature, she will always win,” he said. “That’s what I’m here doing: To help keep other people safe and let them know and if they get in trouble, we help them as best as we can.”
Life as a first responder can be unpredictable at times, but as Shepardson proved on Sunday, he’s ready for what’s to come.
“I’m super humbled and super honored and try to live up to the legacy of all the guys before me. To surf in the Eddie Aikau and perpetuate his legacy as a lifeguard and riding big waves and being in the ocean, being a waterman, it’s what I live for,” Shephardson said. “I don’t think I’ll ever come close to what he did but I’ll try my hardest to do good.
“It’s really cool if I inspire anybody, but I’m just another kid that grew up in Hawaii that’s grown up out there and put in the time. If any little kid sees this, they can do whatever they want if they put their mind to it, put in their time and keep trying hard and stay focused on their goal.”