Gerry Lopez once described his connection to Pipe like a that of a love affair, particularly a love/hate type relationship which often results in a best or worst case senario. Its funny how different surfers fall in love with different surf breaks, but for her soldiers Pipeline is more like a living being than a wave. It moves, breathes and metamorphosizes, it can go from small to huge in an hour and from perfection to poo poo within minutes. Part of being a Pipeline Soldier is putting your whole life on hold to be there in those special moments when it all comes together.
Despite the myth that Pipeline peels with perfect barrels everyday, it actually takes a few important factors before she can show her true magic. From late May to early October the Northshore looks more like a lake than a surfing Mecca meanwhile the sand in front of the Pipeline piles up high at Ehukai Beach Park. The first swell can send waves up that high slanted berm and back into the break to deliver a death defying backwash that can eject you from the takeoff and launch you into the reef. If the swell moves the sand into the channel that same backwash is matched with a closeout dump which can often be bigger than the wave itself. In the beginning of the season Pipeline can offer a lot more risk than reward causing surfers to be more cautious that it will not be game over before even begins.
On a north swell, Pipeline is more like a river between Off The Wall and Ehukai than it is a wave. You can paddle out in the channel at Pipe and be at Off the Wall before you even make it out to the line up. A north-northwest swell forms a pointbreak style right. It starts getting serious when the NW swell rolls in alerting the backdoor posse. The tight racy right is as much of a lovefest for regular foot surfers as the Pipeline is for goofys. The NW can offer some long left barrels too, but they are steep deep and have a tricky takeoff that is constantly moving underneath you. We often use the slogan West is Best for the Pipeline because thats when you get the big steep drop into the thick round hook of a barrel. It is on these days you might say surfers see a glimpse of Gods glory because it almost feels like a picture of heaven.
If a perfect west day is heaven on earth, then having to watch a contest on that day is pure hell. One significant factor about Pipeline is that the stacked contest schedule starts just as soon as the waves get good. From Dec-April there is a 12 day holding period for contests that occurs every 2 weeks and not only do the contests often take up the best days at Pipe, but they bring some of the most ferocious crowds you will ever encounter. The first event in December decides the three most exclusive events in surfing including the ASP World Champion, the Triple Crown Champion and the current Pipemaster so its no joke when people say that everyone in the world is at Pipeline. This onslaught of competitive surfers often clashes with local and international Pipe specialist who train, yearn and wait all year long to surf Pipe and have to sit out the first swell of the year for guys who hardly ever surf it. Now add a pile of pro bodyboarders in the mix and its like static just looking for a reason to shock someone. At times the the tension in the line up can turn the most beautiful wave in the world, real ugly.
On really good days, you can count over a 100 heads in the lineup fighting over just two basic peaks. If you ever do get a chance to compete at Pipe you realize how much easier it is to take off on one of those waves without the 20 people paddling around you at the same time. It takes a certain type of mental telepathy to convince everyone around you that its your wave. Its dangerous to have someone dropping in front of you or behind you, or if you have to go straight and end up in the next guys way. I have to say, some of the bulllying that goes on at Pipe is legitimate. I believe it can actually save lives to send people in who do not know their limits and respect their own skill level amongst the pack.
A small crew of us underground guys try to beat the crowd by showing up at the crack of dawn every morning and in the most intense times, there is actually a crowd of people trying to beat the crowd. Sometimes it seems like there is a contest to see who can get out there first which provokes some daredevil bodyboarders to paddle out before you can even see the surf. Being one of the first ones out is often a feat within itself. You dont have anyone else to watch and judge the conditions or the current, so its like diving into an abyss of the unknown. You become everybody elses Guinea Pig for the day.
The Fear Factor
Facing Pipe on a consistent basis can be like reliving a car accident everyday. Its a kindof controlled chaos that you welcome into your world for five months out of the year. Everyone deals with their fear in a different way, but most of us have worked our way up. You surf it one size until your comfortable with that, then keep going out bigger and bigger getting more and more associated with what to do as different situations present themselves and when you get to the point where you pretty much know what to do, you just do it. Its tough to break that barrier at Pipe though. On a big day, just getting out through the current that runs down the beach can be life threatening, matter of fact most deaths occur at Pipe when that current is a factor. You look at the waves from the hole in the park at Ehukai and its so well groomed, but the moment you walk down the beach you realize its twice as big, thick and narly as you had thought. Instead of thinking oh God what am I doing, you have to remember the well groomed visual you had from above because that is what it will be like once you get out there. Then you have to sit there and ignore what your eyes are actually seeing because when the biggest meanest set detinates on the reef, it is your signal that it is time to paddle out. Deciding what waves to catch and where to sit are different for each surfer at different skill levels. My friend Geraldine Gogin once expressed the idea that you dont choose the wave you want at Pipe, but instead it chooses what wave it wants to give you. Whether it be a spiritual exercise or the science of where each individual puts themself in position for the wave, it surely does seem like certain people are always getting the same certain kinds of waves.
I cant explain the ride the way some of the best guys could, but I can say that some of my most awesome surfing experiences have been just being out in their epic moments. To be right there in the channel feeling the power of the wave underneath me, the energy of the surfers around me and the spit spraying my face as someone comes screaming out of a killer tube is pretty magnificent. For me the feeling of riding a wave at Pipe is realizing my childhood fantasy of wanting to fly and it can all happen so fast you dont even know what happened, just that it was really exciting. Every decision you make at Pipe has a stern consequence. My friend David Ontai once described his experience dropping in on a wave at Pipe, as a decision of whether or not to jump over the cliff. From the least to the best surfer at Pipe however, we can often put more emphasis wondering about the cliffs we choose to turn away from, than to revel in the ones we already conquered. Perhaps thats the stigma with Pipe, nomatter how good of a wave you got, your always yearning for a better one and the challenge is limitless. Even a junk wave at Pipe reduces most other surf spots to become somewhat of a sub-standard and your whole perception about surfing evolves to some other art form all together. While Pipe can still be exciting on a 1 foot day, it isnt really considered Pipeline until it reaches the 6 ft range. It is maxing on the first reef at 6-10 feet and then starts breaking on the second reef outside Off the Wall at 10-12+. No question some of the 8 and 10 foot waves are the most dangerous, but the ultimate is to catch a wave from the outside reef and ride it through inside tube all the way to the beach.
Sometimes I wonder if I have joined a Roundtable of Vikings who clang their fists with comradery and shine each others horns after every good wave, but just when you are about to condemn the feast of gluttoness meatheads, you realize there are several who are humbly enjoying their meal. In time, the Pipeline has showed me its wide range of followers who meet from many separate paths. The soldiers are there every chance they get and are utterly disturbed when they cant be there. You know its not normal when your half way across the world wondering how you are going to skeme and manipulate your way back to Pipe to surf the swell you just saw arrive at the buoys. The Pipeline defines you, as a surfer, an athlete and a person. It shows your strengths and weakness, brings out your best and worst character and has a funny way of keeping you humble. On the days I stop to consider that I could have bought a house, had a teenage kid, or fed some of the worlds hungry for the incredible amount of time I have put into the Pipeline, its really the people who have made it all worthwhile. We all remember our best waves, but sometimes its the moments you spend hooting for your friends that stand out. Its the times we all got scared and tip-toed down the beach together then made it back alive and laughing. Its those people you looked at to confirm why you cant believe what you just saw and to acknowledge why noone else seems to understand you. Its the times one person had the guts to encourage me when everyone else stood and laughed. You cant leave out the times we mourned over the loss of our piers who died right before our eyes doing the very thing we all love to do. The most special moments at Pipeline are shared amongst friends.
Greg Quinn aka Mr Pipeline (Pipe vetran of 35+ years, occupation: Architect)
Getting barreled is one of the best feelings in life, like being intimate with the ocean. You throw yourself over the ledge in total commitment and the wave gives back by wrapping you in its power. And, the barrels at Pipeline are so beautiful and her face is always changing from the twilight dark sandy caves to the morning glory of a gold rimmed purple and dawn chapel. Surfing Pipeline is the ultimate.
Jamie Sterling (current big wave riding champion)
Pipeline to me is the most challenging wave in the world. Its taught me how to ride in the most turbulent wild barrels. The confidence and knowledge Pipe has instilled in me has allowed me to charge the biggest waves around the world with no hesitations or doubts.
I love Pipeline.
Pancho Sullivan (current WQS world tour contendar,former Pipe champion and local Hawaiian favorite)
Pipeline is the most amazing wave in the world. The sheer power and energy that focuses on that reef is absolutely amazing and the close proximity of the wave in relation to the beach makes it like watching an avalanche from 50 ft away. You feel a sense of adrenaline just sitting on the beach and watching it. Growing up here on the North Shore I was drawn to it and I fell in love with surfing it at an early age. Its a wave that requires you to be calculated, confident and forces you to dig deep and be 100% committed. Waves move faster and break with more intensity out there than almost anywhere else in the world so one wave out there gives you more adrenaline that you would get from 50 waves anywhere else. The sensation of being spit out of the barrel is euphoric. Competing out at Pipe over the years has been such an amazing opportunity for me to see what level I can take my surfing too all the while enjoying an empty lineup which never happens these days. Every heat you advance through is another opportunity to surf Pipe with only 3 other guys in the water so the motivation for me has always been to capitalize on surfing as many heats as possible. Pipeline has provided me so many incredible moments during the course of my career from supporting my family too raising the bar on own personal performance to being smashed on the reef and by being humbled every time I surf it. The wave teaches you so much about yourself on so many levels. That may sound a bit too cosmic but you could ask anyone who surfs it regularly if that is true and they would all tell you the same. Its a life changing experience surfing Pipeline!
Wade Tokoro (leading surfboard shaper and highly respected free surfer)
Pipeline is one of the most challenging waves in the world. It is always
different with swell direction and sand build up. The wave it is very
intense and difficult to read. I would say that the crowd is the most
dangerous out there. People from all over the world come to surf Pipeline
and it can be a deadly combination of waves and people. I had a few friends
that have passed away surfing out there. Pipe is not a place where you can
mess around. Even the best get hurt out there. Although when you catch a
good wave it can make dreams come true! It is one of the best feeling in the
world when you get spit out of a nice barrel!
John John Flourence (15 year old Pipemaster and surfing sensation)
...surfing pipe is as comfortable and similar as being in my house with my family...when you enter it could be all of the above a. dangerous and scary but you still want to go inside to see if you can handle the craziness , unpredictable but fun, or happy, sweet and comfortable. I surf pipe because I love to surf and pipe is one of the best waves in the world and its out my front door...
Alex Flourence (Mom John and female Pipeline pioneer)
pipeline has a good feeling for me...i can't pinpoint it but I just feel good there, its bonding to be out there with the same handfull of people year after year, swell after swell..especilly when its big and clean.. everyone (AT LEAST THE LUCKY few) seems to get a chance on stage...i'm happy even if I get a small clean one...and i can watch my sons get a few..
I dedicate this to our friend Lester Falatea who recently died at age 38, of a genetic heart problem after surviving several years of surfing huge Pipe on his longboard. Les loved Pipeline and Pipeline loved him. When things got too serious, he knew how to make us all laugh and love what we were doing again. Live Like Les
Story by Lane Davey
In Memory of Lester Falatea