Spot Check - Pipeline

1349409047 - Vans Triple Crown of Surfing hydrated by vitaminwater

“Whoa, Pipe... I’ve grown up watching the wave. I’ve surfed out there in pretty much every condition there could possibly be, from half-a-foot to as big as it gets. Surfing it so much you learn that you can never trust it, you can never get too comfortable out there. As soon as you get too comfortable, the next thing you know, you’re going over the falls and you’re like, ‘Oh, God! What have I done now?’ There’s so many times I’ve felt comfortable, but then I’ll get a little tap on the reef and it reminds me to get back and get focused. You just can’t get too comfortable out there because it’s a heavy, heavy wave.” —John John Florence

The Billabong Pipe Masters is the quintessential event in professional surfing and Pipeline is the Holy Grail of waves by which all others are measured. The third and final jewel in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, the Pipe Masters is one of the longest running events in professional surfing, even pre-dating the Triple Crown by more than a decade.

Kieren Perrow (AUS) celebrates his 2011 Billabong Pipe Masters win with Gerry Lopez who shapes the winners prize board   © ASP / Cestari

Breaking just 75 yards off the beach, Pipeline is at once a surfer’s ultimate dream and worst nightmare. It has claimed the lives of more surfers than any other famous break. The beach tremors as waves detonate on Pipeline’s extremely shallow reef and spectators can literally feel the energy of the ocean and the precarious tension as a surfer drops into one of Pipeline’s hollow, grinding lefts. Any wipeout at Pipeline is a bad one, no matter how big the surf, and the consequences are serious—from injury to death. At Pipeline, it’s all about getting barreled, so the bigger the tube and deeper the rider, the bigger the risk, the better the score.

Pipeline is also the nexus for the evolution of the sport. In the early ’80s, Simon Anderson proved the utility of the tri-fin surfboard, his own invention, in the big, powerful surf. The fin set-up changed surfboard design and performance, a paradigm to this day. Kelly Slater also brought change to the surf world in the early ’90s at Pipeline by making a habit of going right during competition surfing Backdoor, Pipeline’s twisted twin. A racing, draining barrel that often closes out, Slater proved that riding shorter surfboards and taking off late under the lip was a recipe for success in the lineup. Seeking out the tricky Backdoor barrels opened up the playing field at Pipeline and signaled a new era in how these waves are surfed in competition.

Evan Valiere (HAW) had the perfect view of Michel Bourez (PYF) winning their Quarter Final during the 2011 event. © ASP / Cestari