Big Wave Surfing at Pipeline

The Banzai Pipeline, known simply as “the pipeline” is located on the O’ahu’s North Shore, just off Ehukai Beach Park.

The Hawaiian reef break produces big ocean swells with curled waves and it’s one of the best places for tube riding.

The History of Banzai Pipeline

The history of the Pipeline dates back to 1961 when surfers Bruce Brown and Mike Diffenderfer stopped at the unknown spot to film Phil Edwards as he caught some waves.

The Californians noted that there was an underground pipeline project on the nearby Kamehameha Highway, and decided to name the break accordingly. The “Banzai” part is because it’s near Banzai Beach.

The name was used in Brown’s film Surfing Hollow Days and also inspired the song “Pipeline” by The Chantays.

The classic surf song was initially titled “Liberty’s Whip” and was named after the 1962 Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but they changed it to “Pipeline” when they saw Bruce Brown’s film.

The instrumental song is one of the most iconic surf tracks of all time.

It helped to define the spirit of Californian surfing for a generation of surfers and has since been used on countless films and TV shows.

Pipeline Surf Breaks

The average wave at Pipeline is just 9 feet, but it can go as high as 20 feet.

The most common wave is known as the “Pipeline” or “First Reef”. It breaks from left to right and is by far the most surfed and photographed.

There is also a Second Reef that breaks further out and a Third Reef with the biggest waves of all.

The waves are treacherous and there are lava spines under the water that can cause serious injury following a wipeout.

Pipeline Contests

There are several contests held at Pipeline, inviting some of the best surfers from around the world to tackle these legendary waves.

The Billabong Pipe Masters is the biggest.

It attracts the best 34 surfers from the World Surf League (WSL), as well as 32 surfers who enter via trials.

There is over half a million in prize money available and the Billabong Pipe Masters serves as the final part of the Surfing Triple Crown.

Unsurprisingly, Kelly Slater is one of the most decorated surfers in the history of the Pipeline as he has won the title 7 times, with his last victory coming in 2013.

Andy Irons has also won multiple times.

The Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic and the IBA Pipeline Pro are also held here.

Notable Surfers

Phil Edwards is one of the most famous names to have surfed Pipeline.

Not only is he a legendary surfer, but he is believed to have been the first to surf here.

Other big Pipeline surfers include Mike Stewart, Michael Ho, Danny Fuller, Mick Fanning, Mark Richards, and Sunny Garcia.

The dangerous nature of Pipeline makes it one of the most dangerous surf spots in Hawaii and it has claimed the lives of numerous surfers and photographers over the years including John Mozo and Malik Joyeux.

Joyeux was known for surfing the heavy waves at Teahupoo and even won a Billabong XXL Tube of the Year award in 2003.

He died at Pipeline in 2005, when an 8-foot wave broke his board and knocked him unconscious.

Photographers and fellow surfers were unable to locate him in the water and he was later found at the Pupukea beach break.

He was carried to the beach and while resuscitation was attempted, it ultimately failed.