If I haven’t actually put lipstick to looking glass, the imagery has definitely been playing in my head with the steadily decreasing number of days before I will get to compete at Pipeline. PIPE! A part of me jumps up and down, doing a little jig, excitedly anticipating the chance to actually surf Pipe. Sure, i’ve been out there before. I’ve sat in the capacity exceeded lineup without getting a wave. I even caught a few once, many years ago in the springtime when it was calm and friendly, hence, not really Pipe. I’ve spent many a six hour day glued to the sand during the Pipe Masters absolutely transfixed on the heroics performed just yards away from my safe vantage point. But when people ask, and they ask often, “ever surfed Pipe?” I have to honestly say, “well, not really.” The countdown ends in a change to that response. And there the other part of me, the one that values life and limb, that was on the beach watching the day Tahitian charger, Malik Joxeau died, the one that plays in a loop that other scene from Blue Crush where head plus reef equals bloody water, that part of me robs me of my energy. Pipe? Yikes!! Maybe I should have bought a helmet. Maybe i’ll wait ‘til tomorrow to head out there. Yes, tomorrow…, and i’m starting to run out of lipstick….
A fourteen day waiting period certainly seemed like ample time to score enough good waves to finish a two day event. Last year’s inaugural championship enjoyed great conditions and ran to completion in the first two days. With more prize money, international competitors, and sanctioning body rating points, the 2006 T&C Pipeline Championship presented by Tony Volkswagen seemed guaranteed to acheive it’s aim of showcasing the best women surfers tackling one of the world’s heaviest waves.
Of course Mother Nature can rarely be relied upon. After a month or so of unusually persistent NE wind and swell the beaches of the North Shore were as fat as a glutton on the day after Thanksgiving. It would have taken a bulldozer working around the clock for more than a week, or a few days’ worth of healthy West swell to clear away all the sand that had accumulated on the reefs. Coming down the beach access path to check the surf, Rocky Point hardly seemed rocky at all. The lefts were missing as well, replaced by what looked like a shallow right point break. The peaks at Monster Mush, Pupukea, and Ehukai were operating well above normal expectations, but the beach at Pipe had grown so large that there was a chest deep and almost quarter mile long lagoon in the center. Pipe itself seemed to be hibernating, but the spot formally known as Backdoor was showcasing some fun semi-hollow rights that ended with a dump in the thick grainy sand. It certainly wasn’t nomal for the North Shore, but it was fun! It was all about riding shortboards instead of guns, and actually racing out to catch a set wave instead of racing for the channel. As the waiting period began, the competitors settled into island life, made the best of the small waves, and prayed (some half-heartedly) for a big West swell.
By the second week of waking up and pedaling along the bike path to realize it was still small, it was still going to rain all day, and the contest was again postponed, some competitors started to get a little antsy. It might not have been so bad if the surf and weather looked a little more similar to the postcards in the rack at Foodland. Instead, it rained every day. The few occasional hours of sun were soaked up as much as possible but even then, the incredibly strong sideshore wind was there to pelt you with stinging sand and keep you shivering in the lineup. WQS surfers fresh off a contest trip to Brazil joked about going to Hawaii to lose their tans! Who would have thought? Several competitors decided it wasn’t worth missing extra days of school or work. They gave up and went home to watch the contest, if it ever ran, on the live internet broadcast instead.
Those of us in it for the long haul remained optimistic. One rainy morning I rode my bike down to Pipe to be surprised by a slight increase in energy. Sure it was far from the Pipe of my dreams, or even my nightmares, but there were a few coming through that had a little hook on them. I even saw a wave spit! I ran back with my board and surfed for several hours in the steadily increasing swell. By sunset there were a few legitimate Pipe waves breaking and the local superstar boys (Jon Jon Florence and Jamie O’Brien) were out showing the girls how to ride it. Without any time to practice so far, none of the girls looked to have it figured out. I watched a Brazilian bodyboarder take off late, airdrop into the flats, and have the lip land directly on her back. It exploded on top of her and sent her bodyboard and fins flying off in all directions. She floated down with the current and limped off the beach without trying to catch some redemption. Ouch! We went to bed early that night, sure that the event would begin in the morning. Sometimes the quicker the swells pop up, the sooner they subside. That was unfortunately the case here. By morning those overhead lefts had retreated, replaced by the same small lumpy rights of every morning prior. The contest was cancelled for the day, again.
The third to last day of the waiting period dawned much the same as every other, but with one important difference. The contest director decided she could not wait any longer and swell or no swell, the heats had to begin. It was a dismal grey day resembling many others the WQS surfers had endured over the years. Sure the contests are at great waves, but that’s no guarantee the waves will cooperate in your heat. The mushy, backwashy rights were certainly contestable but far from what competitors had signed up to surf. There was one barrell ridden in the opening round but nothing else about the conditions even slightly resembled the heavy wave we were supposed to be surfing. The second round showcased the talent of Australian Nicola Atherton, who made her mark by catching the biggest wave that broke all day and surfing it solidly with her trademark powerful style. She was rewarded with a perfect 10. Aside from those few instances of excitement, the event became a wave catching contest. If you happened to bag a set wave and could surf half way decently, you would advance. Melanie Bartels, easily one of the favorites, bowed out in the second round after a wave starved heat caused her to become desperate and then receive an interference before getting an oppotunity to display her exceptional talent.
A significant swell was forecasted for the second to last day of the waiting period, but by morning it had yet to arrive. The contest was postponed once again in hopes that the swell would pick up and the final possible day would receive the reward for which it had been waiting. True to the forecast, it did pick up in the late afternoon and everyone was hopeful for the morning.
Maybe you can see this coming, or maybe you are expecting a happy ending in all this, something along the lines of the last day being blessed with sunshine and rainbows, and all the girls trading tubes with some high fives thrown in a’la Slater and Machado. Nope, not this time. The final day of the two week waiting period looked to be promising at first light with residual albeit chunky sets pounding the shoreline. By the time the heats were underway it was pouring rain, onshore, and very backwashy. The longboarders did their best to sneak in a few nose rides. There was even a very impressive 360 landed in the shorebreak. Leah Dawson from Florida snuck a few long ones and earned herself a win. The shortboarder final actually seemed to enjoy the best conditions of the whole event. There weren’t any tubes on offer, but a few nice slightly overhead rights popped up, willing to be ripped apart. Following up on what she started with that ten point ride in the earlier rounds, Nicola Atherton took command of the heat early on and never let go. The young much touted Hawaiian, Carissa Moore showed the mature turns that will certainly make her a future world title threat, but couldn’t link enough of them together to upset Nicola and had to settle for second. Paige Alms from Maui snagged one of the better waves of the heat in the final minutes and executed a series of maneuvers, but without a big backup score she was relegated to third. South African Tammy Lee Smith was representing the entire event, but couldn’t bag a wave in the final to save her life and ended up sulking off the beach in fourth. The bodyboarders charged out last and battled it out for a little over ten minutes until a shark fin was spotted in the lineup. They were called in immediately and there wasn’t enough daylight to wait out the lifeguard mandated two hour break following a shark sighting and had to split the prizemoney equally.
Walking back slowly, soaking wet in the pouring rain, the emotion that came to mind first was mirth followed quickly by something near hysteria. It was all a bit too silly to take and yet oh so familiarly typical. We had prepared ourselves to surf Pipe. We did our laps in the soft sand, brought our big boards, watched every surf DVD’s Hawaiian section, imagined the massive tubes and dreaded the inevitable wipeouts. Then, on the very last day of the waiting period we did what we seem to do all over the world in contests, we fought with eachother for 2-3ft onshore waves. Of course, it isn’t every contest that we get chased in by sharks. All of that together made it just too funny. Then again, realizing that my answer to the “ever surfed Pipe” question hasn’t really changed, maybe I shouldn’t be laughing. There’s always next year. I guess I better buy some more lipstick, and maybe a helmet, just in case.