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The reef at Pipe is a flat tabletop reef, with several caverns on the inside, creating a giant air bubble that pops on the front of the wave when the wave lurches upwards just before breaking. There are also several jagged, underwater lava spires that can injure fallen surfers. When sand accumulates on the reef at Pipeline, the waves can become unpredictable and violently “close out,” (break all at once instead of peeling in a way that allows a surfer to ride the wave). A strong swell (a formation of long-wavelength surface waves) from the west clears out the sand in the reef, and after that, a strong north swell can give rise to the best waves.
There are four waves associated with Pipeline. The left (which means the wave breaks from left to right from the perspective of a watcher on shore) known as Pipeline (a.k.a. First Reef) is the most commonly surfed and photographed. When the reef is hit by a north swell, the peak (the highest tipping-point of the wave where it begins to curl) becomes an A-frame shaped wave, with Pipe closing out a bit and peeling off left, and the equally famous Backdoor Pipeline peeling away to the right at the same time. As the size at Pipe increases, over 12 feet usually, Second Reef on the outside (further out into the deeper ocean waters) starts breaking, with longer walls (the unbroken face of the wave that the surfer slides across), and more size. At an extreme size, an area called Third Reef even further outside starts to break with giant waves.
Numerous surfers and photographers have been killed at Pipeline, including Jon Mozo and Tahitian Malik Joyeux, who was famous for his heavy charging (gutsy surfing) at Teahupo’o. Many people have died or been seriously injured at Pipeline. Pipeline has been called one of the world’s deadliest waves. Its average wave is 9 feet (3 m), but it can be as tall as 20 feet. Especially perilous are sections of shallow reef known as “Off the Wall” and “Backdoor”.
A few of the notable surfers at Pipeline are Phil Edwards (surfer) (who is credited as the first person to surf it), Butch Van Artsdalen, Gerry Lopez, Mike Stewart, Shaun Tomson, Mark Richards, Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew, Peter Townend, Michael Ho, Simon Anderson, Tom Carroll, Sunny Garcia, Kelly Slater, Danny Fuller, Jamie O’Brien, Rob Machado, Andy Irons, Mick Fanning, Gabriel Medina, John John Florence and Italo Ferreira.
The top surfing competitions at this spot include the Pipe Masters (board surfing), the Volcom Pipe Pro, the IBA Pipeline Pro (bodyboarding), and the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic. Surfers can also submit videos to Surfline’s Wave of the Winter competition. The competition focuses on beaches on Oahu’s north shore, including Pipeline.
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