Dave Reardon: Lifeguard Luke Shepardson mixed work and play

Jan. 25—Perhaps, since it's still January, you haven't given up on a New Year's resolution to improve your fitness, and instead of eating a big meal you get in some exercise during your lunch break.

Perhaps, since it's still January, you haven't given up on a New Year's resolution to improve your fitness, and instead of eating a big meal you get in some exercise during your lunch break.

If so, good for you.

But I'll bet the house that your workday workouts are nothing like that of lifeguard Luke Shepardson on Sunday.

One of the (few ) downsides of working in sports is the same as for a lifeguard. You're on the job when most other people are at play.

But Shepardson, 27, must have a cool boss, because he was allowed to compete in the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational on Sunday. He couldn't get the entire day off, not with thousands of people at Waimea Bay to keep an eye on while they had their eyes on the contest.

And—in a result that adds to the already mythic quality of this one-of-a-kind event—they saw the local underdog win.

He earned $10, 000 for first place. It's a pittance compared to the $75, 000 John John Florence got for winning in 2016, the last time the Waimea waves were deemed big enough for The Eddie.

But the sponsorship isn't quite the same as it used to be.

Five years ago, The Eddie was at a crossroads because of stalled negotiations with longtime patron Quiksilver. Stalled turned into permanently ended, and it was feared the contest might never be held again.

Even if the sets were big enough for Eddie to go, the event might just go ... away, forever.

But Eddie's brother, Clyde, promised it would live on, even if it meant handing out coconut trophies and celebrating with a feast of sardines on rice.

Clyde said it was important to keep The Eddie going, because it inspires people—worldwide.

"Someone sent me an email saying his dad sat around watching soap operas all day, " he said in 2018. "He saw The Eddie, and now he does stand-up paddling on Lake Ontario."

We don't have a stadium, and it made me sick to see that the Hula Bowl is now played in Orlando.

We can't lose The Eddie, too.

The Eddie Aikau Foundation holds an annual essay contest for kids—who can write their stories in Hawaiian or English. I don't surf, but I'm a fan of anything that teaches the next generation about a true Hawaiian hero like Aikau, who was much more than an athlete.

He saved an estimated 500 lives as the North Shore's first official lifeguard. Aikau was lost at sea and presumed dead in 1978 at age 31 ; as a Hokule'a crew member, he paddled on a surfboard for help after the Hawaiian voyaging vessel capsized in a storm, more than 10 miles from shore.

It takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to turn Waimea Bay into the venue that hosts this event that is like nothing else in surfing, or in all of sports.

In 2018, Clyde Aikau said nearly 400 police and security workers need to be hired for crowd control—which makes sense, since tens of thousands of people cram into the small area around the bay to watch.

The spectators often show up for a contest that does not occur because the waves aren't big enough. (For some, that's OK, or even better—if the waves aren't big enough for the contest they're allowed to get in the water themselves.)

Now there is no naming-rights funding from Quiksilver, the surfwear giant, and there's no affiliation with the World Surf League.

But, as things turns out ... no need.

The event's website lists 20 sponsors. One of them, Hawaiian Airlines, donated hundreds of thousands to the prize pool. Yes, hundreds of thousands of miles, that is ... but surfers who travel the globe hunting for the biggest waves certainly can put them to use.

Shepardson was relatively unknown in the surfing world before Sunday. Even he had a hard time believing he could come out on top of a field of 40 that included his fellow North Shore keiki o ka aina Florence (a two-time world champion ), other prior Eddie winners, and big-name world class wave riders like Kai Lenny and Ezekiel Lau.

Their presence proves what many already knew. For the surfers, this event has never been about how much money they might win.

"I've got to get back to the tower to make sure everyone's OK until the end of the day, " Shepardson said. "It was a dream come true just to be part of The Eddie, just to be on the alternate list."

It's quite possible, maybe even likely, that all nine previous winners of The Eddie (no one has won more than once ) have pulled at least one distressed swimmer or surfer out of the ocean at some point in their lives.

Shepardson, though, is reportedly the only one to do it as his profession.

And what could be more fitting, considering that was Eddie Aikau's occupation, too ?