Hawaii's big wave surf competition was called off early Wednesday when the 40-foot swells predicted failed to materialize, event spokeswoman Jodi Wilmott said.

The competition was last held six years ago, when swells met organizers' strict minimums. The Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau event began in 1984, but there have only been eight times conditions have been ripe for the competition.

Aikau is a Native Hawaiian surfer famous for riding monster waves and saving hundreds of lives as Waimea Bay's first official lifeguard.

The swell approaching the islands this week is being fueled in part by ongoing El Nino conditions.

The promise of the competition had drawn out throngs of spectators Wednesday morning before the event was called off. The two lane road that snakes along Oahu's North Shore was backed up with traffic as eager spectators rode bikes or walked to the venue. Parking was nearly impossible to come by for miles from the beach.

Event spokeswoman and longtime Aikau family friend Jodi Wilmott told The Associated Press on Tuesday that surfers show up at the event to honor the legacy and generous spirit of Eddie.

"The surfers invited to this event absolutely understand the prestige of being invited," Wilmott said. "It's about coming together to honor the most famous big-wave rider there has ever been and to do that basically at the Mecca of surfing."

As a lifeguard, Aikau is credited with saving hundreds of lives from the dangerous surf of Oahu's North Shore, and he is said to have never had a fatality while on duty.

He was a guardian of the bay and any other body of water he visited, Wilmott said, and fittingly so as he was a direct descendant of a Hawaiian high priest named Hewahewa, who was given the task of watching over the Waimea Valley long before Eddie arrived.

"He really did share aloha wherever he went," Wilmott said. "He loved to share his own spirit of what being a Hawaiian was. He played music freely and told stories of Hawaii wherever he travelled."

Wilmott said when the surf was too big for most in Waimea Bay and the crowds cleared out, Aikau would grab his surfboard and take on the biggest waves around.

"His spirit was very caring, very accommodating, very peaceful, and when he would ride it was just a sight to behold," she said.

Ultimately, however, Aikau gave his life to the ocean in a final attempt to save others. The 31-year-old Aikau was part of a team that was attempting to trace the route of their Polynesian ancestors from Hawaii to Tahiti aboard the traditional Hokulea canoe in 1978.

The vessel encountered rough seas and eventually capsized. Aikau took his surfboard and paddled away for help. He was never seen again, though the rest of the crew was eventually rescued.

Some of the best big-wave surfers in the world were at Waimea Bay to compete in the event, including Eddie's brother Clyde Aikau, who is the oldest competitor at 66 years old. He's also the only surfer to attend all of the competitions.

Another big-wave competition, Mavericks, is expected to be held on Friday in Half Moon Bay, California.