The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational is a surf event held at Waimea Bay that has certain criteria before it gets run. The waves need to be a set height and the conditions need to fulfil specific criteria. No one wants to surf Waimea if it’s big and onshore, for example.
Since 1984, when the event was first conceptualized, it has only run 9 times. That’s only 9 times in thirty-two years.
When Red Bull ran their event, the Big Wave Africa, in Cape Town at Dungeons, it ran 4 times over a ten-year period, with those four winners being Sean Holmes, Greg Long, John Whittle and Grant Baker.
Which brings us to the Cell C Goodwave, the invite-only competition that is set to take place at New Pier, with R120k going to the winning surfer.
The contest has a 1-year waiting period, and only 1 day is needed to run the contest, yet we are nearing the end of the waiting period of the second year, and still the event hasn’t had a start.
The contest director is Jason Ribbink, but the event is a South African Surfing Legends-entity, and the crew, including Graham Cormack and Pat Flanagan, have been doing all the prep work behind the scenes. Barry Wolins is an integral part of the mechanism and the driving force behind the event, and Gavin Varejes facilitated the event funding. The contest has a total prize purse of R200 000, costs R1 to enter and is dedicated to Lee Wolins.
In a previous incarnation, it was one of the most popular surfing contests on the calendar, and it also had some very stoked winners. One of those former event champions, Simon Nicholson (2004), is an alternate for the current event, a perennial New Pier frother, and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the waves and the conditions at the New Pier. I tracked him down to ask:
“Do you think the organisers have actually missed a ‘Goodwave Good’ day at New Pier over the last 2 years?”
“Nah,” said Simon with a shrug. “It has been a tough couple years with El Niño and the sand issues Durban has had. Those elements plus the combo of good winds lasting long enough have been very rare if any. There have been some great morning sessions, but none that the elements all held together for enough time to run an event.”
“How hard is it to get a day that the organisers want?” I followed up. “Are they chasing a unicorn?”
“It’s tough.” He sighed. “Personally I feel like weather patterns have changed a lot over the last few years. I was watching Dave Weare’s film Ignite the other day, and I’m pretty sure Durban hasn’t been that perfect in a decade. Those days seemed to happen a lot more back then. Maybe I’m just getting old, but the recent cyclone swells I’ve surfed out there at New Pier have been tough, a few diamonds among a lot of rough. I think there are a few factors at play. But it has definitely been very slim pickings.”
Contest director Ribbink agrees.
“Simon is one hundred percent right in that there hasn’t been a good enough day to run the event this year or last,” said Ribbink. “Working with Steve Pike has been enlightening, and we have figured out all the magic numbers in terms of swell size and direction that we need for the waves to get Goodwave good, but it hasn’t happened yet.”
It’s no secret that Barry Wolins has been pulling his hair out from where he lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“It has been very frustrating, to be honest,” said Wolins. “We have Spike from www.wavescape.co.za as the official event forecaster, and we have Jason as contest director and with all of his years of experience at the New Pier. So there’s no fault with the team. Some people think that the lengthening of the harbour, and possibly the dumping of the sand in the bay could be having detrimental effects on the waves at New Pier.”
The event has morphed, in order to make it even easier to run off. “We dropped it from 32 surfers to 24, to make it more expedient,” said Wolins. “We have even looked at alternate venues on the beachfront should there be good sandbank formations further up the beach. We are prepared to do anything possible to run this event and hand over the biggest first prize cheque for a domestic event.”
It has to be right though. It is a big-deal event, and it needs to have the best conditions possible, otherwise, it’s not the Goodwave, is it?!
“My win was definitely a highlight of my career,” said Nicholson of his 2004 victory. “As New Pier was my home break, it felt so good to come out on top of those guys, especially after finishing runner-up the year before. Good New Pier is right up there with the best waves on earth on its’ day and it’s such a privilege to surf it with a few guys all day.”
It seems that the invitees and alternates get it, and know and understand that the special day hasn’t come yet, that it hasn’t been Goodwave good for a long time.
“Look, the vibe is super fun because most of these guys are friends, so there’s such a fun level of banter going down,” said Nicholson. “Being alternate is stressful though, and there’s going to be a fight on the beach to get an alternate spot!”