HONOLULU, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- The most prestigious and longest running big wave event in the world returned after a seven-year lull, and the waves were worth the wait.
The 2015/2016 Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Invitational contest brought giant 50-foot waves into Oahu's tiny Waimea Bay on Thursday. Hawaii's John Florence, at 23, became the youngest surfer to win the event, surviving a few steep rides down the wave faces and exploding white water to take his first victory in the event and the $75,000 winner's check.
The last time the event was run in 2009, Florence was just 16 years old.
But Florence, a rookie in the event, saw some of his stiffest competition from former event winners 50-year-old Ross Clarke Jones of Australia, and 44-year-old Kelly Slater of Florida. The other close finishers were Hawaii's Shane Dorian and Makuakai Rothman, and Australia's Jamie Mitchell.
The oldest surfer in the 28-man field was 66-year-old Clyde Aikau, the brother of the late surfer, waterman and Waimea Bay lifeguard for whom the event is named. Clyde is also a previous winner and, after tumbling on his first wave, got in a glorious glide before exiting the contest for the last time.
But it was despite some amazing rides from various surfers through the day, it was Florence and his calm and confident rides that led him to victory.
Many of the surfers competed in the event with heavy hearts as highly respected Hawaiian big wave surfer Brock Little died last week from cancer. Little is known for some of the most amazing rides in contest history.