There is no wave more infamous, and consequential than Pipeline. It can make or break careers and many have lost their lives surfing and documenting the wave. Yet when the 8-10 foot swells light up the north shore, Pipeline remains the most sought after and alluring wave in the surfing world.
It starts with a storm over a thousand miles from the north shore of Oahu. That energy crosses the pacific ocean uninhibited and approaches the Hawaiian islands, where it meets the famed shoreline off Ehukai Beach Park. The deep water swell ramps up to a shallow shelf of lava that has created what is considered by most, the world's most perfect wave.
The beauty and ferocity of the wave itself must be seen to be truly appreciated. Part of the allure of Pipeline is the close proximity of the wave to the shore. You can stand on the beach, a mere 50 yards away from the certain death for most. Those who dare brave it when it’s big, are met with applause and cheers from the crowd of spectators.
Pipeline is situated among a stretch of shoreline that is unlike any other place on earth. From Haleiwa to Sunset Beach, the roughly seven miles of coastline is littered with world class waves. A perfect storm of several elements including the position of the coastline, wind, sand, and proximity from the storm, have come together to make the most epic stretch of coastline in the surfing world. And at the epicenter of this global surf phenomenon is Pipeline.
The wave itself is a left or a right depending on the swell direction and size and can be rideable from anywhere from two feet, to twenty. The left is Pipeline, and the right is called Backdoor. Pipeline favors a northwest swell direction but swells facing more north fare better at Backdoor. Although it can be playful at two to three feet, it is somewhat of an expert only wave, due to the speed at which it breaks and the steepness of the drop over a very shallow reef. On bigger days, even the experts have trouble getting waves. Along with it being the world’s most deadly wave, it also happens to be one of the most crowded, with the fiercest lineup.
But whether you’re a surfer or a spectator, the marvel of a wave is undeniable. Throughout the decades it has remained the most revered and respected wave in the surfing world and has left an indelible impression on those who have been there to experience it in its full force.