Pipeline – North Shore, Oahu
Pipeline has a reputation as one of the most dangerous waves in the world. The main wave at Pipeline is a left that breaks over a very shallow and treacherous reef. The right at Pipe is called “Backdoor” and can be even more dangerous at times. Pipeline pitches really quickly as the wave moves over first reef, making for some intense late drops straight into the barrel. On massive swells, the takeoff zone can move to second reef, which is a lot further out, and to the south; here the wave is generally more crumbly until it hits first reef and turns into a racetrack. On the biggest of days, Pipe breaks way out in the middle of the ocean at what is called third reef. It is also one of the most famous waves in the world, and all the pros eventually go there to prove their surfing abilities. Pipe is strictly for experts only. Every time it is breaking, there is a big crowd on it, most of whom are locals or visiting pros, so paddling out at Pipe can be intimidating. If you do paddle out and are able to scratch your way into a wave, you can be certain that getting spit out of a Pipeline barrel will be the thrill of a lifetime.
Pipeline is located on the North Shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Ehukai Beach Park is the common parking lot for those looking to surf Pipe. It is located across from Sunset Elementary School on the North Shore. After parking in the lot, Pipeline is just south down the beach.
Swell & Weather Conditions
Pipeline breaks on most directions and sizes, but is best on a mid-sized west or northwest swell. Most days of the year the easterly trade winds are blowing, which provide pretty good offshore winds for Pipeline. A slightly lighter wind tends to make Pipe work the best. Every so often, the North Shore will get Kona winds from the south that can really mess things up on the North Shore and at Pipe.
Pipeline is all about getting into the wave and getting barreled. Most surfers out at Pipe are riding boards often called “Pipe guns,” which are basically mini-guns. The best boards are rounded pin and pintail boards that you would trust to get you through a very fast barrel section. Surfers at Pipeline often have bigger boards than they would surf at other locations, probably because the earlier you get into the wave at Pipe, the more likely you will make it out unharmed. Getting thrown over the falls at Pipeline is not a fun experience.
The first recorded surfing at Pipeline took place in the early 1960s, although locals claim that the wave was surfed long before this time. In 1964, Greg Noll rode one of the most famous waves ever caught at Pipeline from all the way out at third reef. By the ‘70s, Pipeline was already very famous in the surfing world, and in 1971 the first Pipe Masters was held, a contest that is still the biggest event in the surfing world today. Over the years, Pipeline has only increased its reputation as one of the most perfect and deadly waves in the world.
Pipeline is home to the final event of the Vans Triple Crown, which is also the final stop of the ASP World Tour. Pipe Masters, as the event is normally called, has taken place for decades at Pipeline and is the biggest event in the surfing world each year. There are other events that happen each year, such as the Da Hui Backdoor Shootout, which features mostly local talent and is always an amazing show. The trials for the Pipe Masters take place each year before the Triple Crown in order to choose the local wildcards who will get to compete in the main event. One event that has run since 1971 is the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic, where crazy guys like Mark Cunningham get the chance to bodysurf Pipe with no surfers to get in their way. A more recent event that has taken place is the Tidal 9 Women’s Pipeline Pro, in which women from around the world compete in three disciplines: shortboarding, longboarding, and bodyboarding. No matter what the event, a contest day at Pipeline will provide one of the greatest free shows on earth.
Brief Travel Info
Pipeline is not a very difficult wave to get to, as traveling to Hawaii is pretty simple from most starting points. From the airport in Honolulu, you just have to make your way up to the North Shore and find some accommodations. The only hotel in the region is the Turtle Bay Resort, located on the north end of the North Shore. It’s pretty easy to find other places to rent, such as rooms, houses, and hostels, but make sure you have all of that figured out in advance. There are plenty of good places to eat and fun things to do on the North Shore and in nearby Haleiwa. For a few ideas of what to do when the surf goes flat, check out the flat spell activities for Oahu post on The Surfing Blog. For a more detailed travel guide about the North Shore and Haleiwa, check out the Travel Guide found on The Surfing Site.