"The passage of time does not diminish the mind's astonishment at how one place can be both so overwhelmingly beautiful and so completely terrifying, all at the same time."
Gerry Lopez, "Surf Is Where You Find It"
It is the most famous, most revered and most photographed wave in the world.
It is also pound for pound the deadliest. Every year in early December the World Championship Tour comes to a dramatic conclusion over this small but perfectly formed patch of reef in the middle of the North Shore of Oahu's seven mile miracle, and it's about the only time that you'll see just two people at a time sharing the peak at Pipeline. I mean, there are surf contests, and then there is the Pipe Masters contest. This year, as is often the case, the title race has come down to the wire: If the current tour ratings leader (and former 2x world champion) Mick Fanning comes in lower than third place then eleven times former world champion Kelly Slater can snatch the world title away from under his nose with a win in this contest. Kelly hasn't secured a world title in the final contest of the year since the 1990's (before his retirement and subsequent return to competition) so the stage is set for a dramatic conclusion to the year. The Pipe Masters is on right now (Sunday evening GMT) and you can watch the action live here. Even though Joe Turpell somehow still has a job commentating on surf contests it'll definitely worth tuning into over the next couple of days.
Images, top to bottom:
- Splitting the peak; one surfer goes right at Backdoor whilst another takes on the left of Pipeline.
- Winter in Hawaii: Bring a bigger board and make sure that it has a pointy tail.
- 2000 ASP Men's World Champion Sunny Garcia making the most of a blip of swell one windy afternoon in October 2007.
- The price of Pipe. Right before you step onto the sand from the Ehukai Beach parking lot, on the left hand side nearest Pipeline, the wire fence hosts a memorial to surfers who have paid the ultimate price surfing Pipe. Many of them were professional surfers and it stands as a stark reminder of just how dangerous this wave is - just in case you thought you might paddle out and have a crack.