Banzai Pipeline: Oahu, Hawaii
The Spot: Banzai Pipeline, one of the most famous waves in the world that all other waves have been compared to for over 50 years, located at Oahu’s North Shore
Why It Matters: “It’s hands-down the fucking best wave in the world,” says Fred Pattachia. “A challenging big barrel in the heart of the North Shore’s proving ground that goes both ways [that] has so many different faces and moods and always offers the chance to get the best wave of your life.” One of the most photographed waves in the world, Banzai Pipeline is a proving ground for surfing’s elite. During the winter, storms hurtle down from the North Pacific, bombarding the North Shore with energy. When that energy hits the reefs at Enukai Beach Park, it is transformed into a beautiful and dangerous wave. As is typical of most reef breaks, the take-off area at Pipeline is very small and on the best days, it’s crowded with local heavies and top-level pro surfers. Though surfers come from all over the world to try their luck at Pipeline, it remains highly localized. North Shore locals regulate the peak and woe to anyone who crosses them. Acceptance is hard-earned on the North Shore and many never achieve it.
Pipeline has three sections: First Reef is closest to shore, and depending on the swell, it’s rideable as both a left and a right. The right is known as “Backdoor.” The waves at First Reef break in 3-5 feet of water, and to add to the danger, the reef is riddled with spires and caverns. First Reef is the classic, cylindrical wave that has made Pipeline famous.
As the swell increases, the take-off spot moves out to Second Reef, which holds its round, barreling shape up to 18 feet. The biggest sets will start to feather on Third Reef, which sits about 100 yards offshore. When it breaks on the biggest swells, Pipeline becomes a casino. Rideable waves are few and far between as the swell swamps out the reefs and the wave loses its classic shape.
Pipeline is at its most dangerous in the early season when sand on the reef makes the wave’s shape less predictable. The first big swells of the year sweep the reef clean, and Pipeline regains its iconic shape.
Movie producer Bruce Brown is credited with naming Pipeline in December 1961. Driving the Kamehaha Highway, Brown stopped to film Phil Edwards and Mike Diffenderfer surfing the reef in front of what was then called “Banzai Beach.” A roadworks project lay unfinished across the highway, and a pipeline sat exposed. Diffenderfer suggested calling the surf spot Pipeline, and after Brown used it in his film Surfing Hollow Days, the name stuck.
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