Hidden just beyond the tiny sign that announces ‘Ehukai Beach Park’ is one of the world’s most iconic and undoubtedly the most famous surfing break in the world – Banzai Pipeline, variously known as ‘Pipeline’ or ‘The Pipe’. The wave itself is ancient but the name only goes back to 1961 when three California surfers stopped to film Phil Edwards riding a magnificent wave next to an underground pipeline construction project. The name stuck and in 1963 surf rock band, The Chantays, titled their pumping tune ‘Pipeline’ which cemented the name in place forever.
The beach had been known as Ehukai which means ‘sea-spray’ in Hawaiian for a long time. After World War II, locals began referring to the beach there as Banzai Beach – Banzai was the word that Japanese kamikaze pilots shouted before crashing their zero fighters into enemy targets. Both names come because of the fact that during winter, waves can reach as high as 30 feet (nearly 10 meters) high.
Pipeline is a reef break. It’s a flat table top reef that has jagged spires and canyons. Waves travel thousands of miles from where they are generated by storms in Alaska or Japan and the first land they hit is the gently sloping undersea mountains of the Hawaii-Meiji Seamount Chain – which, hen it breaks the surface – becomes the Islands of Hawaii. The water is already being pushed upward when it hits the reef at Pipeline, but the sudden presence of the reef causes a dramatic upswell which is often preserved to amazing heights by the offshore winds blowing from land.
There are actually four surf breaks at Pipeline. There is Pipeline itself which is a left, then there is Backdoors which is a right – and when big water is coming in – there are the second and third reefs outside (further out). Pipeline is one of the most deadly waves in the world and there have been many deaths and injuries there. Imagine the damage from being in a swimming pool where the bottom is covered with broken glass – and then having another swimming pool dumped on top of you. That is roughly equivalent to being crushed by a huge wave at Pipeline.
There have been many movies shot at Pipeline – perhaps the most famous was Blue Crush. Each one of the jewels of the Triple Crown of surf happens here – The Pipeline Masters.
The craziest thing about Pipeline is that in summer, it can be as smooth and calm as a lake and a perfect place to swim and relax in the water – jus watch out for the currents.