The Consequences of Pipeline With Mikey O'Shaughnessy - Stab Mag
This is not how you want to fall anywhere, let alone Pipeline. All photos: Sean Bobinski

The Consequences of Pipeline With Mikey O’Shaughnessy

Take it from a guy who cracked his helmet on the reef.

Words by Schuyler Allen

On Valentine’s Day, Mikey ‘Red’ O’Shaughnessy fell while dropping into a wave at Backdoor, was knocked unconscious, and held under for multiple waves.

Surfers rushed into the impact zone, and thanks to a collective effort from these saviors and the North Shore Lifeguards, Mikey would live to surf another day.

Rewind to the night before Valentine’s Day. Pipeline was big and burly with plenty of wash-throughs from Second Reef. A clean-up set right before dark swept the lineup, breaking boards and leashes and sending surfers scrambling to the beach. After breaking my leash and taking a couple waves on the head, a board miraculously popped up next to me. I jumped on, paddled out of the way of the next few waves, and proceeded toward the channel, where Mikey Red was swimming in from Second Reef. The board paddled like a dream, and just for a second, I thought about what it was like to be a “Wave of the Winter” winner. 

This was Mikey’s board. 

I hopped off the Ferrari, handed it to him, and began to swim into shore. 

Stab: So, was that same board you rode on Valentine’s Day?
Mikey ‘Red’ O’Shaughnessy: Ya, I got 3 boards from Chuck Andrews.  7’0, 7’6, and 9’0. I tried to ride those boards the whole season, almost every session. And they were the best boards I ever bought.

Do you feel like the rocker or length of the board played any part on that wave you fell on?
Maybe it was a little long for the wave I went on but, all in all, it was a shitty wave. When I look back at it, that was a big mistake on my part. The conditions were changing and it had just come onshore. Any wave you go for at Pipe is life or death for the most part. The swell on Valentine’s Day was pretty big, basically 6-12 foot Hawaiian, with a lot of energy, and there were still some Second Reef waves. I shouldn’t have went on that wave and that was a big learning experience. I need to have better wave selection.

These surfers wouldn’t normally be caught inside. They’d all paddled in to try to help Mikey. Photo: Sean Bobinski

Do you feel like the crowd out there can influence you to go on certain waves you normally wouldn’t?
The crowd can get in your head out there. Everything can—the wave, the crowd, the conditions, your equipment, just how you feel. It was a wave I made a mistake on. I don’t like to make mistakes, and try my hardest not to with all my training and the time I put in on the North Shore and around the world. I know it’s life or death. I’m not only putting myself in jeopardy, but also the people around me. So I really try to be precise and calculated in all my attempts out there. I take it so seriously. I’m focused on not only getting the wave of my life but more importantly getting to the beach safely. We want to live to swing the sword another day.

I heard you had already caught a handful of good waves prior to the one you went down on?
I had a couple nice waves under my belt, one right and one left that I got barreled on. I was trying to push the level. I have goals and ideally want to get another Wave of the Winter.

You won Wave of the Winter in 2016…
That was a super life changing wave. For me, that’s like a World Title. I just wanted to be in the video. At the time my goals seemed so far away and unattainable but once that happened it was a huge rush of confidence and I felt I belong here.

How long have you been wearing a helmet out there?
This is actually my first season of wearing the helmet, so it was all new to me. I wanted to be safe because it’s not if, but when. And we all sign up for it when we paddle out there. It’s the deadliest wave in the world. Surfing is a high risk sport, it’s an impact sport. Some people don’t realize that. I’ve had more concussions than I can count and that’s why I started wearing the helmet. But really, it was those guys that saved my life. Jaoquin DeCastillo, Max Beach, Leo Fioravanti, Billy Kemper, Dave Wassel, Jesse King, all the lifeguards, Kyle Foyle, Jake Maki, Zeke Lau, Koa Rothman. Guardian angels helped save my life. To be here, and to be able to walk away, is a trip.

Early rescue efforts by Max Beach and Jaoquin DeCastillo. Photo: Sean Bobinski

Have you done the B.W.R.A.G. or any rescue training?
My oldest brother and sister, Dallas and Pulama, are lifeguards on the Big Island and they’re as gnarly as they come. So I have a background in lifeguarding. I took it all so seriously. Before I was even a teenager I was doing Junior Lifeguards and practicing rescue scenarios. When I came to North Shore at a young age, that was one of the reasons I felt confident being out in life-threatening waves. I also took several Big Wave Risk Assessment classes and learned from the best guys like Brian Keaulana and the Skull Base crew. They’re the people I look up to the most and have the utmost respect for. But whether it’s Pipeline or Queens or wherever, if you want to be a surfer, it should be a requirement to have life-saving skills. That’s just my perspective. It can happen at any wave around the world. It’s going to have a huge impact on your life and maybe you can save somebody else’s life at some point.

Sure rescue at pipeline
Rescue crew: proper. Photo:Sean Bobinski

How’s your recovery going?
I’ve had so many concussions in my life. I’m just learning about a lot of these symptoms but the recovery is going well. I’m alive. No broken bones or broken teeth. It feels like I was in an accident. I’m giving my body the time to recover and heal to the point where I can get back in the ocean. It might be a month, it might be three months, it could be a year. But I’m just so thankful to be alive and so thankful for all those people that saved my life, and the people that made my helmet, and Liam McNamara for letting me borrow the helmet, and to the world for all the prayers and healing vibes and energy that everybody is sending me.

Editor’s note: On this wave, Mikey suffered a number of injuries (such as whiplash and a severe concussion) which have precluded him from performing basic, necessary tasks like driving a car. Please help Mikey with his road to recovery.

Mikey O’Shaughnessy GoFundMe

One Hit Away Foundation

North Shore LifeGuard Association 


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