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How to Surf Pipeline: A Guide to the Most Iconic Wave in the World

The North Shore of Oahu is infamous for its amazing waves on a short stretch of coast. Of all the amazing waves on this piece of coast, Banzai Pipeline is arguably the best.

It’s the mecca of the surfing world as every winter draws the best surfers around the world to its near perfect waves.

The pros on TV might make this wave look easy to ride but that’s far from the truth.

Pipeline is one of the most complicated breaks in the world with multiple take off points all breaking over a razor sharp reef that has claimed boards and lives over the years.

We’re here to break down all the different peaks and take off zones at Pipe.

History of Pipeline

Pipeline has a rich history and has long been recognized as one of the best waves in the world.

It was first surfed in 1961 by Phil Edwards, a surfer from California.

This legendary first ride was captured on film by Bruce Brown and was featured in his film “Surfing Hollow Days”.

They decided to call the spot “Pipeline” because of the construction being done across the highway of an underground pipeline.

By 1962 a solid crew of locals began to surf Pipe which included Greg Noll, one of the first surfers to catch an outside reef wave at Pipe.

It’s impossible to mention Pipeline with mentioning “Mr. Pipeline” himself, Gerry Lopez, one of the first surfers to truly master Pipe’s violently beautiful waves.

In 1971, the first Pipe Masters Surf Competition was held.

The Pipe Master’s continues to be held every year and has the power to make or break upcoming professional surfers.

Many other surfers have made their names at Pipe over the years, Jamie O’Brien, Andy Irons, and Kelly Slater to name a few.

Pipe still holds the crown as one of the most viciously rewarding waves in the world and won’t be going away anytime soon.

Breaking Down Pipeline


Perhaps the best known wave on Pipe’s repertoire is the left simply known as Pipeline.

The left breaks over the first reef and with the right size creates a perfect A-Frame but we’ll get to that later.

The first reef is a flat reef that gets covered with sand over time which is bad for the left because the sand leads to dangerous close outs.

A big swell will usually clear the sand off the reef and give surfers the Pipeline left everyone knows and loves. The actual wave is pretty tricky as Pipe breaks incredibly fast and humble even the best surfers.


The right side of the A-Frame on Pipe’s first reef is known as Backdoor.

Backdoor breaks over an incredibly shallow and sharp part of the reef and can be extremely dangerous.

It’s essentially the same wave as the left except it goes right instead. Like the rest of the breaks, it relies on a heavy northwest swell and usually Backdoor will need a little more size to start working.

For this reason, Backdoor is incredibly deceptive because sometimes the right looks makeable but it turns into a nasty closeout over a sharp reef when the swell isn’t right.

The exit point is brief but it’s necessary to know where it is because getting caught inside here is a potential nightmare.

Off the Wall

West of the main Pipe/Backdoor reef is another slab that isn’t as consistent as the main peak.

Off the wall is separated from Backdoor by a crevice in between the two reefs creating a channel that can be used to paddle back out the lineup.

It’s known for its right which can get really big and hollow in the right conditions but occasionally a smaller left is an option as well.

Like Backdoor, the reef here is extremely sharp and extremely shallow, so it’s important to know when to kick out in order to avoid injury.

2nd Reef

80 yards out past the first reef, the second reef at Pipe only starts to break on really big winter days.

It’s just as unforgiving as the first reef — but even bigger.

It of course needs Northwestern swells in the well overhead range to break. It’s a much slower entry than the violent first reef of Pipe but still requires an immense understanding of the reefs.

Usually the second reef will connect the surfer to the first Pipe/Backdoor reef bowl.

Perhaps what Second reef is most well known for is producing random freak sets during the winter that will cleanup the first reef lineup.

Surfing Pipeline

Pipeline is unforgiving, unpredictable and vicious if you aren’t properly prepared for it.

One misstep could be fatal, so it’s important to understand the different breaks.

Pipe is the final test in a surfers journey, take on Pipe you can take on almost any wave in the world.


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