A Brief History of the Banzai Pipeline

Banzai Pipeline is one of the most iconic waves in surfing history. This legendary break on Hawaii’s North Shore is known for its long barrelling waves and difficult conditions. The wave attracts top surfers from all over the world each year, looking to conquer one of surfing’s most famous breaks. 

Since its first recorded surf session in 1961, Pipeline has become a kind of surfing Mecca. Follow our guide to learn more about the history of this surf break.

banzai pipeline

What Is The Banzai Pipeline?

Banzai Pipeline is one of the most impressive and notorious waves in the world. The Pipeline is a reef break located in Hawaii, on Oahu’s North Shore. The break is found off Ehukai Beach Park in Pupukea. 

Pipeline is a picture-perfect surfer’s dream. This break is known for its massive hollow tubes that break over a sharp, shallow reef. The break is one of the most dangerous waves in the world, but it’s also one of the most sought-after. The Pipeline has become a famous symbol of surfing thanks to its world-renowned competitions, surf film appearances, and the many famous surfers who’ve earned their chops on this wave. 

There are large caverns under the Pipeline reefs. As the wave breaks over these reefs, massive air bubbles rise up from the caverns to create the perfect wave crests that Pipeline is famous for. The takeoffs are steep and the waves are really heavy, but they also offer amazing rewards for the lucky surfers who get it right. 

Pipeline includes a series of three different reefs that are spaced out in gradually deeper parts of the ocean. The reef that breaks depends on the size of the incoming swell. The Pipeline break includes four different waves. These are:

  • Pipeline/First Reef: This is the left break of Pipeline, and the most well-known, popular wave. This is the closest break to the shore.
  • Backdoor Pipeline: Backdoor Pipeline is a right break that happens when a north swell hits the first reef. The north swell causes an A-frame at the peak, and the left break starts to close out. Backdoor is the right break of this. 
  • Second Reef: Second Reef is further out in the ocean after First Reef. This deeper wave breaks when the swell gets bigger, and the waves reach somewhere around 12 feet and over. Second Reef is known for its bigger waves and longer walls. 
  • Third Reef: Third Reef is the most intimidating Pipeline break. This wave only breaks in really big conditions, resulting in some massive waves. Third reef is the deepest break.
backdoor pipeline

History Of The Pipeline

In 1961, Phil Edwards rode the first-ever wave at Pipeline. This famous eight-foot ride was filmed by legendary surf filmmaker Bruce Brown, and it went down as one of the most iconic events of surfing history. 

The same small crew of surfers returned the next day, and they filmed the second surf session there. This footage made its way into the surf movie Surfing Hollow Days. During the time of the first surfing session at this break, there was an underground pipeline construction project taking place nearby. The big concrete pipes stored at the construction site reminded Mike Differderfer (another surfer in the group) of the wave. And so the famous break was dubbed Pipeline, or Banzai Pipeline in reference to its Banzai Beach. 

By 1962, Pipeline had attracted a crew of regular surfers – both locals and visitors coming to experience this legendary wave. In 1963, Pipeline’s popularity was boosted with the release of the classic surf song “Pipeline” by The Chantays. Soon, the entire surfing world knew about this Hawaiian break. 

As time passed, the different sections of the Banzai Pipeline were discovered and pioneered. Since its first coverage in 1961, Pipeline has continued to be recognized as one of the most challenging, and exciting, surf breaks in the world. 

Surf Competitions At The Banzai Pipeline

As Pipeline started to become one of the most famous surf destinations in the world, a variety of regular competitions started to take place here. 

The Pipe Masters is one of the most prestigious surfing events on Hawaii’s North Shore. This event attracts the world’s best surfers each year. This includes the top 34 surfers from the World Surf League, as well as the top 32 surfers from walk-on trials. The Pipe Masters was started in 1971 and has been a highlight in the competitive surfing scene ever since. 

There is also the Volcom Pipe Pro, featuring 144 of the world’s best surfers. The IBA Pipeline Pro has been another famous event at Pipeline, focused on bodyboarding. Then there is also the annual Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic for bodysurfers. The Wave of Winter competition by Surfline allows surfers to submit footage of their ride on the North Shore each winter, which includes Pipeline.

barrelled at pipeline

Conclusion

Pipeline forms an essential part of surfing history. Since its discovery in 1961, this break has continued to attract and impress international surfers each year. Pipeline remains one of the most challenging and impressive breaks on the planet, and it’s become an iconic arena for surfing.

FAQ’s

What time of year does Pipeline break?

Pipeline gets consistent swells throughout the winter. Being on Hawaii’s North Shore, the months from October through March offer the best conditions. 

Is Pipeline the heaviest wave?

Pipeline rides may only last a couple of seconds, but this wave is well-regarded as one of the biggest and heaviest waves on Earth. The treacherous takeoff is the most difficult part of riding this wave. 

How many people have died at Pipeline?

Being one of the most dangerous waves, about eleven surfers have died at Pipeline over the years.

How hard is it to get a wave at Pipeline?

The steep takeoff and need for high speeds make Pipeline a difficult wave to master. Pipeline can also be very unpredictable, with the break shifting across the different reefs. Being such a famous wave, good days at Pipeline can also get pretty crowded. 

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