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Waves That Mattered: Brock Little, Waimea Bay, Eddie Invitational, 1990

There was nothing little about the waves Brock liked.

We lost Brock to cancer in 2016, but he will always be remembered for that crazy wave that he paddled into during the Eddie Invitational in 1990.

The swell

There had been a few year’s break from the Eddie before 1990 rolled in, so the surfers and the crowds were frothing. No such thing as a webcast back then, so it was all about finding a spot on the rocks, or on the beach.

It’s always hard to get a good vantage point at Waimea. The houses on the point are private property, and it’s super risky to try and get around from the Three Tables side. A giant set could take you off your feet and you’ll never be seen again.

That day in 1990 saw a couple of sets come pretty close to closing out The Bay. For a set to close out The Bay it is generally considered to be in the region of 40-foot faces, so it was a real deal swell.

The surfers

In the second heat of the day, 21-year-old Brock Little rewrote what we all knew about big wave surfing up until that point by paddling for and catching the biggest wave ever caught. It was big and scary and most surfers wanted nothing to do with that set, except for two people: Brock and Ken Bradshaw.

Brock was on the inside and he went. Ken had the wave as well, but kicked out, explaining later that he thought there was a bigger one behind it.

“That wave came through and everyone just bolted for the horizon,” said Little in a 2016 Tracks interview with Anthony Pancia. “Everyone except Bradshaw and me. We were side by side and both paddling for it.”

Brock caught it, and rode that wave to fame and glory, while Bradshaw blew the biggest chance, literally, of his career. The wave was a behemoth, and to the roars of the crowds, Little hit a bump and his posture changed from one of absolute, poised concentration to one of limp resignation, as he skittled through the air with a giant Waimea lip chasing him down the face.

The legend

It was a career-defining wave and confirmed Little as one of the greatest big wave surfers of that time. Just to prove that he didn’t simply get lucky, that it wasn’t just about a little chip-shot that got him into a single big wave with ease, he took off on another giant wave at the same event a few heats later and pulled into one of the biggest and longest barrels ever seen at Waimea. He emerged from the tube at full speed before a rib of chop catapulted him into the air, but he was granted full legend status then and there.

Before tow ropes and jet-ski assist, and before safety teams and inflatable vests it was just man vs the ocean, and all that Little had was paddle power. The strength of two arms. It was the strength in those two arms that got him into that wave, and allowed him to ride it into the record books. The big machine that was Ken Bradshaw might have had the physique to power into big set waves in the strong offshore, but it was the wiry finesse of Little, much like Twiggy’s technique today, that got him into the biggest wave of the day, and instantly turned him into a big-wave legend.

RIP Brock Little

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