Bonzai Pipeline - "Pipe"

Pipeline Hawaii Mark Healy
Hawaii's Mark Healy threads Pipeline's barrel section. Getty Images

Banzai Pipeline

Sheer geography makes this bone-crushing beauty a high-definition explosion for spectators and the ultimate athletic challenge for advanced surfers. The Banzai Pipeline has crowned champions and broken boards since the sixties. No one is immune to its allure or its danger, and anyone who has paddled over the edge into this beyond-vertical behemoth understands it gravity. But what really makes this most famous wave on the planet tick?

The Name

Informally, this hallowed surf ground is known today as “Pipe,” a raw utterance that says round, deep, and heavy all at once.
However, the Banzai Pipeline earned its more formal title as a result of a 1960’s reference to exposed pipes under nearby Kamehameha Highway and the name of the beach, which was then Banzai Beach.

The Wave

It’s nature’s perfect recipe. Breaking at its most powerful a scant 75 yards off the safety of the sand, Pipe offers giant barrels and sometimes an easy paddle out along with a spectacular view of the action. It is, no doubt, the world’s most famous wave.

The Peak

Depending on the swell direction, the peak can peel off into a perfect hollow left (west swell), a fast barreling right (north swell), or both (northwest swell). The right, of course, is known as Backdoor.

Ehukai Beach Park

This kinder wave breaks over a soft sand bar and can be super fun on north and northeast swells.

The Take-Off Zones

Three sections make up the infamous Pipeline reef system. All of which play a role in the many personalities of Pipeline, but it’s the first reef that is the launching pad for surfing’s most hair raising moments.
The second and third reefs act more as indicators of major approaching swells or as a pre-emptive entry point for surfers trying to get in before the wave jacks on the first reef.

Third Reef

Resting at some 40 feet of water and 300 yards out, third reef breaks the biggest waves (at least 20 feet) and alerts surfers further inside that a big daddy is on the way.
This wave has never been surfed in a contest.

Second Reef

12- 15 foot swells usually foam up and slide over the second reef, giving surfers an “easier” and more sloping entry point and a little time to set up for the tube. These waves then reform over the first reef.

First Reef

This patch of flat lava rock just feet below the surface less than 75 yards out slows the base of open-ocean swells, allowing the walls to stand tall and the lip to leap over like no wave anywhere. The result is a 7 second barrel that grinds and tapers down to a smaller shoulder on perfect west swells.

A True Spectacle

The surf world literally watches from the sand. Photogs, writers, pros, tourists, movie makers, and anyone renting the dozens of giant homes within view of the peak analyze every move made in the water and push the drama to a fever pitch.


Although it’s packed almost every day there’s waves, Pipe is rarely perfect. Usually, it’s windy and shifty but with plenty of giant drops and gaping tubes to be navigated. On those rare perfect days, however, widely spaced west swells roll in and once groomed by light off-shore trade winds result in a surfer’s dream: a clean vertical drop into a wide open tube that spins over the reef and exhausts itself over Ehukai’s soft sand.


According to oceanographers, Pipeline’s best waves are the outcome of swell refraction, meaning that the outermost waves ricochet off third reef towards the beach and meet up with the west swells to create an A-frame peak and inside bowl. Just one of these beasts could make your entire winter.

The Ride

Many surfers will tell you, “It’s simple. Just takeoff and pull in.” However, until you have actually experienced a 10 foot wall of water jack straight up and overhead while you balance, hold an edge, and commit a path past the falling lip and over lava rock caves just feet below, don’t believe that Pipe is easy.

The Wipeout

It’s not a matter of if you will wipeout but rather when and how bad. So, how do you survive?

No matter when or how you fall, get as far away from your board as possible. There are more injuries from fin and lip lacerations than from reef rash.

Try to land feet first. This helps you penetrate the water and avoid being sucked over the falls. If you do go over the falls, curl into a ball and cover your head with your arms.

The reef at Pipe isn’t sharp, but it sure is hard.

If you have a choice, try to avoid being caught under the falling lip. This means that pulling into even the nastiest tube can be safer that straightening out and being crushed by the lip over the shallows.

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Your Citation
DiMartino, Jay. "Bonzai Pipeline - "Pipe"." ThoughtCo, Feb. 29, 2016, DiMartino, Jay. (2016, February 29). Bonzai Pipeline - "Pipe". Retrieved from DiMartino, Jay. "Bonzai Pipeline - "Pipe"." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 25, 2017).