The North Shore: Pipe Dreams

In the name of time, and not enough of it, I’m going to share one “what it was like” moment each day, for the rest of the trip. (My daily Make-A-Wish moment, if you will.)

Today, Wednesday, I spent the morning and early afternoon sitting in my room writing about football and tracking down players on the east coast. (I’m starting to rethink my plan to open a satellite office here. ESPN The Magazine: The North Shore. It’s tough keeping up with folks who live in the future—New York).

Around 3:00, my friend Tobias, who works for Quiksilver, called. “I’m coming to pick you up,” he said. “We’re going to Pipe. It’s going off.” That, for you non-surfers, means a swell had come through, there were great waves at Pipeline and I was going to watch some of the best surfers in the world ride one of the best waves in the world.


The contest held each year at Pipeline, the Pipeline Masters, is the final stop on the men’s tour and doesn’t start until Dec. 8. Of course, I’m bummed I’m going to miss it. If there is one surf contest I’ve always wanted to see in person, it’s Pipe Masters. There’s always drama. But this is a good consolation prize. I’ve seen Pipe surfed on TV, in videos and on my computer. But never in person. (I’ve been reminded many times this week that I should be embarrassed of this fact.)

On the way to Pipe, Tobias and I stopped at the Quiksilver Performance House, which is a house Quik is renting from some locals who set up a pretty intense training facility/gym on the ground floor. Wrestling mats, heavy bags, speed bags, free weights. It’s very primitive and very cool. Quik sponsors MMA fighter Kron Gracie, and most everyone on the island is into MMA (mixed martial arts). A lot of the surfers train in jujitsu and several members of the Gracie family are in town and working with the surfers at the House. If I had time, I would have liked to see how far I could make it through one of their workouts. Tobias tried yesterday and puked.

Back in the car, we headed to Quiksilver’s Pipe House. (A little background: all of the surf companies rent houses on the North Shore for the months of November and December. The Quik house is legendary. Next door is the Volcom house. Volcom bought their house this year, the first company to do so. Musician Jack Johnson has a house just down the way.) They call the Quik house the 50-yard line because it sits directly in front of the wave. I took a seat on the porch and watched for about an hour.

For the record: Videos, TV and webcasts do not do this wave justice. It breaks so close to shore that when you’re standing on the beach, you can feel the wave under your feet. As it breaks, the vibration ripples up the beach, under the sand and through your body, as if the wave itself doesn’t stop at the shoreline. Unreal. When a big set came in, the barrels were up around 10-feet plus. Good size. And scary enough from the porch. It was neat listening to all the hooting coming from each house along the beach. This is surfing’s version of watching a Pats-Colts game. Oooos and cheering when someone dropped in late, but clean, on a big wave. Laughs and daaaaaamns when a surfer got caught inside or went over the falls.

Yesterday, I said one of the coolest things about the contest was watching Bethany Hamilton surf in the finals heat. And surf well enough to take second place. Well, I take that back. Watching Bethany Hamilton surf Pipeline today was one of the coolest things I’ve seen since I’ve been here. The only girl out in the lineup was getting barreled at Pipeline … with one arm.


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