This question is a no-brainer, the answer is the surfer, of course. A research scientist on waves plays with equations and theories on waves in the office, while a surfer lives with real waves out there day in and day out. A research scientist on waves goes to research conferences on waves every year, year after year, presenting his or her, result on theoretical results, modified theoretical results, or modified of the modified results, . . ., etc. A surfer, on the other hand, does not always get the kind of waves he or she wishes to surf. For instance there is this event called "'The Eddie'—the Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau at Waimea Bay" that started in 1985. But "the tournament has only been held eight times, due to a precondition that open-ocean swells reach a minimum of 20 feet (this translates to a wave face height of over 30 feet)" according to Wikipedia.
Now my ignorance caused me to ask: Who's Eddie Aikau?
Ah! Wikipedia again has the answer:
Born in Kahului, Maui, Aikau was the third child of Solomon and Henrietta Aikau. Aikau first learned how to surf at Kahului Harbor on its shorebreak. He moved to Oʻahu with his family in 1959, and at the age of 16 left school and started working at the Dole pineapple cannery; The paycheck allowed Aikau to buy his first surfboard. In 1968, he became the first lifeguard hired by the City & County of Honolulu to work on the North Shore. The City & County of Honolulu gave Aikau the task of covering all of the beaches between Sunset and Haleiwa. Not one life was lost while he served as lifeguard of Waimea Bay, as he braved waves that often reached 30 feet (9.1 m) high or more. In 1971, Aikau was named Lifeguard of the Year.
Lost at sea
In 1978, the Polynesian Voyaging Society was seeking volunteers for a 30 day, 2,500-mile (4,000 km) journey to follow the ancient route of the Polynesian migration between the Hawaiian and Tahitian island chains. At 31 years of age, Aikau joined the voyage as a crew member. The Hokule'a left the Hawaiian islands on March 16, 1978. The double-hulled voyaging canoe developed a leak in one of the hulls and later capsized about twelve miles (19 km) south of the island of Molokai. In an attempt to get help, Aikau paddled toward Lanai on his surfboard. Although the rest of the crew was later rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Cape Corwin, Aikau was never seen again. He removed his lifejacket since it was hindering his paddling of the surfboard. The ensuing search for Aikau was the largest air-sea search in Hawaii history.
So Eddie Aikau is a surfer, a heroic one, not a scientist. He is well deserved to have a surfing tournament named in his honor. Come to think of it, there has not been a research conference on ocean waves that has named in some research scientist's honor! (Hey, not for lack of trying. Once upon a time there was a guy who was the director of a research laboratory. He then found a better paying job or something, before he took off, he named the Laboratory library in his own honor. That's no longer the case not long affter he left!)
For me personally, I have been trying to be a research scientist on waves but never, ever, a surfer!