Some things they don’t tell you about Pipeline:
Pipeline’s the most recognisable wave in the world, but it’d also top most surfers’ lists of places they have no interest in surfing. The crowds, the boys, the wave, livelihoods and careers, all on the line; it’s not exactly a welcoming place. But short of being of polynesian stock, or being born out the front […]
Pipeline’s the most recognisable wave in the world, but it’d also top most surfers’ lists of places they have no interest in surfing. The crowds, the boys, the wave, livelihoods and careers, all on the line; it’s not exactly a welcoming place. But short of being of polynesian stock, or being born out the front á la Jamie or John John, how does the budding Pipe enthusiast realise their dream of standing tall inside a bona Pipeline cavern? Well according to Matt Pagan – pro surfer from LA who’s spent 10 years trying to get a wave at Pipe, and has finally becoming a face in the lineup – you’ve got to put in the time. As in, 10 years’ worth of time time. And, study the wave, every coral head, every vein of the reef, until you’ve armed yourself with as much know how of the wave as you can. Knowledge is power at Pipe, and this is what Matt’s learnt…
“The first time I ever watched Pipe I saw a bodyboarder come in and float in the shorebreak. Then the guy who’d obviously been burnt by the bodyborder came out of the water, rushed up to him and just laid him out,” recalls Matt with a nervous giggle. “Then he jumped on him and beat the shit out of him. This was like 10 years ago. I was watching like, ‘Ahh, I’m not paddling out there,’ (laughs). It happens less now though. Before I started surfing there, the Wolfpak had the whistle. I don’t think I’ve ever heard one.”
Watching Pipeline from the beach, with absolutely no intention of surfing it, you can’t help but entwine yourself with the drama of the wave. It’s so moody and shifty that’s it’s understandable why people become so besotted with it. Perfection after a while inevitably becomes boring. Pipeline is not a perfect wave.
You really get a sense of the Pipe scene from above. Just to add to the pressure of trying to negotiate the Pipe wave you’ve been waiting hours for, there’s 12 photographers right in your line of sight! Here’s Matt, just trying to enjoy his hard won view. (Photo by Seth Stafford)
So for the semi-regular, what’s the most stressful thing about surfing the world’s most stressful wave? “I worked it out this year,” says Matt with his almost trademark enthusiasm. He’s one of those people where if you bait him with something interesting, he’ll light up and plunge into the topic. “The most intense thing not being from here and surfing Pipe when it’s crowded, is that you’re so focussed on who’s deeper than you, that you almost don’t look at the wave. Especially if the boys are out. You’ve got to make sure that you don’t fuck up. You’ve almost got to make sure that there’s none around you when you take off. If you spend enough time out there, and give respect, then you get respect. You might not necessarily get a good one on a crowded day, but on a lesser day when everyone’s in a good mood then you might get the nod. I’ve got a couple on nods, from the guys that live in California and bounce back and forth, like Reef Mcintosh and Danny Fuller.”
Pipeline has its tolls, and you just have to pay them. One of them is getting seriously injured. Matt clipped his ticket at Pipe immediately after the big third reef day at the Volcom Pipe Pro in 2014. “There was 150 to 200 guys in the channel waiting for the contest to end,” he remembers. “There were like 30 guys heading to third reef, 50 guys heading to second reef, and the rest on first reef. As soon as the horn sounded I tried to jam out there and nab one – and the worst thing that you can do at Pipe is try and force it. I was younger and I didn’t really know that, and had that sponsor pressure where you think that you have to prove yourself. I went on a super wide west one that nobody wanted, I stood up too early and got pitched, did the whole Bede Durbidge thing. My knee went through my 7’6″ – it missed the stringer by like a centimetre. If it’d hit the stringer then my knee would’ve been blown to pieces. I went over and then on the second go I landed flat on my back on the reef and hit my head and cut my foot somehow. I remember thinking, ‘you’re hurt, get to the surface before you pass out.’ I knew that the water patrol was still out there, so I just needed to get up. I hit the surface and was just seeing stars. My board was bent in half (Matt makes a right angle with his elbow and swings it like a hinge). Bonga Perkins was on the ski – ‘Brah, you alright?’ I was like ‘yeah,’ and started paddling. Then blood just started pouring down my face. Bonga didn’t ask me twice. He threw me on the back of the ski and the other guy on the ski kicked my board in. It was closing out on the sandbar and it was gnarly holding on. He was going like 40 mph whipping me into the shorebreak (laughs). I got to the beach and all the lifeguards were giving me heaps of attention, and I felt bad even though it’s their job. They bandaged up my head and I remembered that I had a prime event to go to in like a week in Brazil, so I started trying to run off my knee so it didn’t get swollen, and that didn’t really work that well.”
If it’s big and you go a ‘small’ wave like this at backdoor, do not kick out and paddle back out. Chances are there’ll be a OTW closeout about to detonate on your dome. Here’s Matt, not necessarily following his own advice.
If you had to pick, third reef pipe would be the pick of the takeoffs to the unenlightened. All you’ve got to do is sit way out on a huge board, roll in, set your line, then get regurgitated into the channel, right? “People don’t realise, but that whitewater that you see coming through on the roll ins on second and third reef, is the worst whitewater in the world to duck dive,” explains Matt. “If the first one gets you then it can push you into first reef, and then you get this crazy double-up super-wedge first reef thing on your head. Then you’re in the shallows and you’re like, ‘what the fuck do I do now?’ (laughs). The good guys like John and Jamie, they sit at first reef no matter how big it is, and they’re able to manoeuvre the sets. Most guys, if you’re out at first or second reef and there’s wash throughs, then you paddle around the left. But Jamie and John will see it coming and go the other way, around Backdoor. There’s this weird little channel bit over there, but you have to sit on the first reef boil to get to it in time, which is gnarly. They have this weird ability to avoid the wash throughs.”
When you sit and watch the crowd at Pipe, it’s hard to avoid the thought that frustration would drive men to do unsafe things after hours sitting without waves. I ask Matt if there’s any Pipeline traps that unsuspecting haloes trigger. “Oh, yeah. When it’s four to eight foot Pipe, and OTW’s a little bit too big… do not go a small right at Backdoor. And if you do, ride that thing to the beach. Do not kick out and try to paddle back out. I remember I got a little right on one of those days when I was younger, I was doing turns, thinking I was killing it (chuckles). I kicked out, turned around, and there was an eight footer literally on my head. I tried to paddle and I wasn’t moving. I just waited, and I could see Jamie and the rest of the pack, like, above me, almost in the sky. This thing was just a heaving closeout. I ditched and it obliterated me, destroyed my board, and sent me in (laughs). Welcome to the club.”
The inevitable question as to who’s the best comes up, and the answer is as you’d expect. “John and Jamie are at the top of the pecking order for sure. They get whatever waves they want. If Jamie’s going you don’t even look at the wave. He’s like moses, the crowd parts and it’s like, ‘here you go.’” And the non-Hawaiians? “Wiggolly’s fucking gnarly out there, he’s so aggressive – not in a bad way – but he’s just so in. He stays with the Rothmans, he’s done a good job in terms of putting time in.” At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. Putting in the hours and greasing the right palms. Nothing comes for free, and if you want a set wave at Pipe, then you’ll have to earn it.
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