Could there be a better wave to begin a Championship Tour season? Pipeline, on the North Shore of Oahu, will once again be the stage for a big moment in surfing history.
The Billabong Pro Pipeline runs between January 29 and February 10, and will be the fist full-length women’s event at perhaps the world’s most iconic wave.
There will also be a record number of Rookies making their Championship Tour debut on the North Shore of Oahu — talk about a baptism of fire.
It’s shallow, it’s heavy and even after all these years, the Banzai Pipeline remains the standard that all other waves are judged by.
With a proper west swell that has steamed across the Pacific to break on a shallow reef just a stone’s throw from the shore, Pipe serves up a heaving, wide left-hand barrel that will generally break into a deeper channel.
There’s also Backdoor, a right-hander that is shallower, gnarlier and more prone to closing out.
Pipe works best anywhere from a few feet overhead to triple overhead, and with a calm or light southeast wind. Phil Edwards was the first to surf the break back in 1961, then Butch Van Artsdalen and John Peck got in on the action.
But it was Gerry Lopez, aka Mr. Pipeline who really took barrel riding performances at the Banzai reef to the next level.
“It’s tilted perfectly to receive the brunt of any northwest swell that happens to swing though the Pacific,” Lopez told the WSL back in 2015. “And that reef at Pipe hasn’t changed much in all these years.
Anything with a slight west angle is going to create more open, hollow, waves. But as long as it’s a clean swell, there’s going to be waves and it’s going to be an exciting contest.”
The Pipe Masters was founded in 1971 by former world surfing champion Fred Hemmings. Consisting of a single-heat until 1975, the event was included in the debut season of the World Pro Tour in 1976. With a few exceptions throughout the decades, the event has been held annually and for a long time served as the conclusion of the men’s Championship Tour.
However, things have changed. Pipe now kicks the season off, for men and women. This comes after women surfed in a Championship Tour event at Pipeline for the first time last year, after the Maui Pro presented by ROXY had to be moved to Oahu.
This year will be the first full event at Pipeline for the women, and judging by some of the performances of athletes such as five-time World Champion Carissa Moore this Winter, its going to be one for the history books.
Pipeline has long been a proving ground. For the Rookies making their debut, it’s going to throw them straight in the deep end.
That’s always been the case for surfers graduating to the Championship Tour, though it usually comes at the end of a season in which they have surfed other heavy reef breaks. As the first event of the year, it’s going to be make or break.
Watch the Billabong Pro live at www.worldsurfleague.com
Photo: Pipeline – WSL