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Friday, September 23, 2011

SUPER SESSION: Pipeline, North Shore Oahu, September 23, 2010

This is the first installment of some of my memorable sessions. I will try to coincide with the anniversary of the session as much as possible in future editions.

My wife had a conference to attend both in Honolulu and west of Haleiwa. I tagged along. I had surfed a couple of spots on the south shore so far, but nothing great.

I was having dinner with my wife's work friend Shannon and her husband Bill. I told them it was awesome being in Hawaii and surfing but I still had not seen the North Shore as a surfer. They said they had thought about renting a car and going to the North Shore to have cocktails at Turtle Bay and asked if I wanted them to drop me off somewhere. I said, "ABSOLUTELY".

Two days, later, we got into their rented convertible Mustang and put the top down to accommodate my rented board and got on the road. On the H1 (freeway that takes you to, from and through Honolulu), the rain started coming down HARD and being in the backseat, I got drenched.

The rain let up as we merged onto the H2, which takes up through Oahu's gut and releases you at Haleiwa, the gateway to the North Shore.

If you are not familiar with the North Shore, it is like flipping the pages on a storybook of waves. There are about ten world-famous 4-5 star breaks within a seven-mile stretch of land, starting with Haleiwa and ending at Velzyland.
Bill kept asking me where I wanted to be dropped off. We passed Haleiwa (not working right) and Waimea (not enough swell; like I would have surfed it if it'd had the swell!). He asked me again and I still wasn't sure. I saw a sign that said Sunset Beach Elementary School was coming up on the right and remembered from reading surf magazines that Pipeline was directly across the street from that and said, "Ok, Bill, pull over!"

I got out with my posse: Bill, Shannon and Raquel. The water isn't visible from the road or the parking area, so we walked towards the beach. As we approached the water, I didn't see anything. We turned left around the lifeguard tower, looked west and I immediately recognized the famous shape of what is probably the most recognizable wave in the world. I told Bill I was going to stay here and he said they'd be back in a couple of hours.

I walked back to the car and got my board out. Raquel told me to be careful and I told her I wasn't sure if I was going to surf. I walked back and plopped my board down next to the lone photog on the sand. I watched the waves for a couple of minutes. It was two in the afternoon and there was an east wind blowing sideways into the left with only five guys on it. I asked the photog if there were any pros out and he told me he was John John Florence's (look him up on YouTube) personal photographer. I kept talking to him and I told him it was my first time at Pipe. He was very nice and told me where to paddle out.

I sat on the sand and was getting cooked by the sun as I pondered whether to paddle out. I decided to just go for it as I could never forgive myself if I missed this opportunity.

Why was I so nervous?

1. More surfers have died here than at any other spot.
2. It was EARLY fall and the sand generally isn't right. Over late spring and summer it is very common for sand to fill in the cracks and crevasses in the reef. There usually aren't any big swells to clean the sand out. If the reef is clogged with sand, it is less able to felt out by the waves. This typically means more closeouts and less predictable waves.
3. I'd been surfing weak, chest-high (at most) California mush all summer. On the mainland, the open ocean swell is slowed and weakened by the continental shelf. Since Hawaii is made up of volcanic islands, the open ocean swell hits the reef at full power.
4. I was on a new board that I didn't have dialed yet.
5. It was 5'-7' PIPELINE!

I paddled out and sat the second-closest to the channel. I saw John John catch a wave but didn't see the rest of it. He paddled out past me and gave me a look. I can't say I blame him. I was in full farmer-tan mode (went to a Chargers game two weeks earlier where I got roasted) and I was on an epoxy (typically frowned upon in this area) rental board with a MASSIVE This-is-a-rental-board, guy-riding-me-is-most-likely-a-kook sticker on it.

The water was clear and I could see bits of reef menacingly staring back at me.

I paddled with the "crowd" as the sets came and went, trying to get the rhythm down. I spotted a guy who also looked kook-ish (something about his facial bone structure) and decided if he could sit that close to the impact zone, so could I. He paddled for a couple of waves and missed them. Then I saw him catch one and got my first up-close live view of a guy dropping in on Pipeline. I gawked at how quickly the wave, which was a bump twenty yards farther outside, turned inside out into this jacking wedge before tripping over itself on the shallow reef and DUMPING over.

He blew the takeoff but surfaced unscathed. This wasn't helping my confidence! I then had a couple of small scares and paddled a little farther out as some bigger waves came through. I saw John-John catch a wave at Backdoor, which is the almost-as-famous counterpart to Pipeline that breaks in the opposite direction and saw him get pitted almost from takeoff. The barrel went on for a while, unfettered by the wind that was making the left a bit choppy, and I saw him kick out. SICK!

I started paddling for some waves. I was hoping to catch one early and get a taste. I made sure nobody was deeper than me before I did so. I looked so comical out there in my pale skin and tan forearms that I probably would've kicked my ass if I was someone else. I didn't need to give them another reason to want to do so so I was extra careful.

I was getting a little tired of being out there and not catching anything. My fear had mostly subsided and was slowly being replaced by a growing sense of frustration. My inner monologue, which had started with quips like "Easy does it" and "One wave at a time", was now leaning much more heavily towards "Come on, you puss!" and "DO IT".

Finally, about forty minutes after my toes first hit the water, I spun around and paddled hard. I felt the wave pick up and gain slope. I got to my feet without a problem and immediately felt the wind in my face and my board rapidly gaining speed. YES! I bottom-turned and cruised up to the lip. I stomped on my back foot and snapped. The backwash hit the wave and flattened it out. I had barely any speed left, but I rode away clean.

Euphoria swept over me. Eddie 1, Pipeline 0! Sure, I didn't get barreled, but the lefts weren't barreling and I had made the drop on a head-high wave at Pipe! I went through my mental rolodex and couldn't think of anyone else I knew who had done that. Pretty cool!

I was paddling back out when I saw a couple of sets coming and I hoofed it out of there towards the channel. I saw John John catch a left on his backhand, fin out his bottom turn and do a backside 360 air. My subconscious self overpowered my conscious self and I let out a loud, primal "WHOOOOO!" as he landed it. He looked at me again without registering any emotion on his face. It must be nice for moves like that to be no big deal...

I decided not to tempt fate any longer and I went in. The sun was replaced by clouds and a hard driving rain was coming in almost sideways. The drops felt like needles as I sat on the sand for fifteen minutes with about an hour to go in my adventure. I was getting sick of being pelted by rain and decided to paddle out again. If I was going to get pelted, I would do so in the water.

Of course, by this time, I was a grizzled Pipe veteran. The fear was gone, I now overflowed with bravado. I sat in the middle of the pack and paddled for a few, being too inside for them and then I saw a set approaching. It was bigger than anything I'd seen all day.

I felt my stomach turn as I paddled hard towards the outside and slightly east to the channel. The wave pitched and I prepared to duckdive. I took a huge breath, braced my hands on my rails and kicked my foot onto the tail pad. The power was unlike anything I'd ever felt! I broke through to the back of the wave, though it did its best to send me over the falls with the lip. PHEW!

A smaller wave was behind it. I made it under and through then spent about five minutes reminiscing before being lulled to the inside again. "That was a freak wave" echoed through my head, along with "A wave like that won't come again for another hour".

I tried to catch some more and was on one, about to stand up, before being hooted off by a dark Hawaiian guy saying, "Ho, Ho, HO!"

I spun back around to face the ocean and that's when I saw it. I was desperately inside and another set was steamrolling towards me. I knew I was going to get rolled, the question was how hard. I did my best to get away from the inside as it is usually the shallowest part of the reef. I paddled for about ten yards before duckdiving.

The wave hit me so hard underwater. I felt myself going over the falls but I maintained my composure. Then I felt my right butt cheek G R A Z E the reef ever so slightly. The impact was less than what you experience when you sit down, but I arched my back and freaked out. I immediately got washed to where I had paddled out and called it a day. Eddie 1, Pipeline 1.

On my way back to the parking area, I paused and saw a bodyboarder get a sick barrel. I trudged up to the lot with no idea as to the time. I saw something moving in a tree and it was a haole with sun-bleached hair looking at me and laughing, his head cocking back so as to more efficiently inhale more laughter fuel. He looked at me in between puffs of air and I couldn't help but to smile a little. I'm sure what happened to me looked hilarious from his perch but was even funnier with how I looked...

Special thanks to Bill and Shannon for the ride!

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1 comment:

  1. Sweet! Well written Eddie! And mad props for paddling out and going for it!