Oahu's North Shore draws surfers with gigantic tubular waves in winter.
There is no surf spot on earth more famous than the Banzai Pipeline on Oahu's North Shore. Winter swells hit a series of three reefs and surge into perfectly tubular waves that can rise to 15 feet before slamming down on jagged coral less than 100 yards offshore. In deeper water farther out, wave faces sometimes reach 50 feet. Surfboard action peaks here each December when the world's top big-wave professionals compete in the Billabong Pipeline Masters.
TAKE ONE In December 1961, filmmaker Bruce Brown got the first shots of a surfer, Californian Phil Edwards, riding the huge waves.
NAMING RIGHTS That same day, surfer Mike Diffenderfer dubbed the break Pipeline after the concrete tubes at a nearby construction project.
NOT QUITE ENDLESS When you catch a wave at Pipe, as some call it, you can ride for roughly 15 seconds before the wall of water collapses.
HUMBLE ORIGIN The initial Pipeline Masters tournament in 1971 had 50 spectators and prizes totaling $1,000. This year's contest, December 8–20, will draw an audience of 25,000 and offer $340,000 in prizes.
HANG FIVE-O Despite popular belief, Hawaii Five-O's opening wave isn't Pipeline, but a nearby break, Rockpiles.
Photography by Tony Arruza/Corbis
This article was first published in November 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.