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The minimum recommended age is 14 years

Pipeline

Pipeline

Oahu - Hawaii, United States

Surf, Bodyboard

There are bigger, longer and more dangerous waves in the world but there aren’t any that are more recognisable and more desired than Pipeline. It’s the wave which all other waves are compared to and is located on Ehukai Beach in the epicentre of the Oahu's North Shore in Hawaii. In the winter, Oahu's North Shore stands out for its excellence and for being the most hard core surfing zone in the world, being home to Backdoor, Sunset, Rocky Point, Off the Wall and Pipeline, all within one kilometre of each other. A place like no other in the world and a place that you should visit at least once in your life. Although its waves aren’t within everyone’s reach and the water will be crowded, the reality is that while some are looking for their position in the water, others will give you a free rein. 

There are flights available from California, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego with the following carriers: Delta, United, Alaskan Airlines, US Airways, Mokulele and Hawaiian Airlines. Delta airlines also fly to Maui from San Diego. It’s best to organise a hire car in advance so you can go directly to the parking at Ehukai Beach which is just in front of Pipeline and Backdoor.

Pipeline Surfing Hawaii

Before the sixties, Pipeline was considered very dangerous and only a few watermen from the era had bodysurfed the second reef. Although there were some other attempts, it was the Californian Phil Edwards who was the first to successfully surf Pipeline in the early sixties. He was followed by the goofy Jock Sutherland who became the first to master the wave and got the nickname Mr Pipeline. At the beginning of the seventies, if someone marked a before and after it was the Hawaiian Gerry Lopez who approached the wave differently and since then, Pipeline has become the most important wave in the world and with his influence, tube riding became the ultimate surfing expression. Every surfer has seen an image of the legendary Gerry Lopez and his Lightning Bolt inside a Pipe barrel. At the end of the decade, the Pipemasters was the most important surf championship in the world in which Rory Russell, Larry Blair and legendary regulars like Shaun Tomson, Mark Richards and Rabbit Bartholomew all stood out. In the eighties, Hawaiians Dane Kealoha, John Gomes, and Michael and Derek Ho inherited the legacy of Lopez and in 1993 Derek was the first Hawaiian to be titled world champion taking the victory in the Pipemasters. 

In the nineties, an unknown surfer from Florida called Kelly Slater showed up at Pipeline and won the competition in 1992 when he was 20 years old. Between then and 1999, on four more occasions, he revolutionised the Backhand in Pipe with barrels and turns no one had witnessed there before. This was until the latest revolution came, the Hawaiian Kauai Andy Irons, winner on four occasions since 2002, showed what is still considered today as the best power surfing in history.

The place has such importance that all over the years, all of the main surf companies have ‘headquarters’ overlooking Pipe and Backdoor, from where friends and team riders wait for the right moment to enter the water. There is a long list of legends that have honed their skills on the Oahu North Shore, the body boarder Mike Stewart, Kainoa McGee, Shane Dorian, Kalani Chapman, Pancho Sullivan, Tamayo Perry, Kalani Rob, Sunny Garcia, Mason Ho, Mark Healey, Jamie Sterling, Mikala Jones, Fred Patacchia, Flynn Novak and Jamie O’Brien to name a few, and the newbies, led by John Florence, Koa Rothman, Jiron Kabour and Eli Olson. Some of these have been and some still are free surfers and they will surely be there in December when the championship final takes place, knowing that the prestige of being crowned as a Pipemaster is as important as being crowned world champion.

The Pipeline reef consists of rocks and craggy coral with depressions, protrusions and even caves, however, most accidents are not from the reef, but from when surfers get hit by their own boards so it’s important to watch out for your board if you wipeout. Due to the characteristics of a wave like this, the important work of one of the best teams of lifeguards needs to be highlighted. Some are known watermen and surfers. Retired Mark Cunningham, who after thirty years is a prominent figure in the North Shore, Mark Dombroski, Dave Wassel, Kyle, Foyle, Mike Jutt and Andre Lugreco have all been the subject of tragedies or serious accidents.

Pipeline Surfing Hawaii
 

Conditions

Oahu receives the most powerful and consistent swells in the world. These swells are generated because of the low pressure that builds thousands of kilometres away in the northwest of the Pacific Ocean. The bathymetry, the configuration of the coastline and the seabed means that the energy is channelled right to the reefs.

Direction is the key, with more W swell Pipe is better and with more N swell Backdoor is better, or both with NW swell. In any case, the best wind component is always ESE. Another important aspect is the relation between the swell component and the period. With W swell the period is often long, 16 seconds, and with these conditions, Pipe is longer. When the period is shorter, 14 seconds, the swell comes from the NW and Backdoor starts to offer opportunities. With periods of 13 to 10 seconds, the swell normally comes from the N and Backdoor is better and longer, the only thing is that the conditions are short-lived because they are related to the decrease of the swell.

For the Pipeline left and the Backdoor right to work well, they need a minimum swell of 3 to 4 feet (Hawaiian). With 10 feet Backdoor closes out but Pipe works, only 75 metres from the shore making vertical walls that spit out lips like no other wave, creating the widest and roundest barrels in the world, some lasting up to seven seconds. Backdoor is nearly more technical and faster than Pipeline, selection is crucial and when it works, it has a very complicated take off, normally in the air and it closes on most surfers. You have to be careful in Backdoor because it doesn’t have its own channel to go back and you can end up getting trapped between the Off The Wall reef and Pipeline. From 10 to 18 feet the second reef works. It’s an easier place to enter the water for the double-up of the first reef. With more than 20 feet the third reef works, this is the limit with the drop, which reaches 40 metres in depth, 300 metres from the shore. When the third reef breaks, the line-up is blurry and only a few sets hold their shape at Pipeline. In the summer there are no waves, it’s a season when the reefs fill with sand, which isn’t good for when the first winter swells come but, little by little, the waves clear the sand out and the quality of Pipeline and Backdoor gradually improves for when it shows its best face in December.
Optimal Conditions
  • Wave
    Left and right Reefbreak
  • Wind
    SE
  • Tide
    Medium
  • Swell
    W - NW
  • Bottom
    Lava reef
  • Size
    1 to 4 m (3 to 12 ft)
  • Time of year
    Fall - spring
Suggested Spots
  • 2 km from Pipeline North Shore - Oahu - Hawaii, United States
  • 166 km from Pipeline Maui - Hawaii, United States
  • 3854 km from Pipeline Santa Cruz - California, United States
  • 4013 km from Pipeline Santa Barbara - California, United States