The Most Dangerous Trips: Surfing Pipeline

Tips for surviving seven of the world's deadliest adventures

Oct 3, 2012
Outside Magazine
pipeline Banzai Beach surfing dangerous

Pipeline at Banzai Beach.    Photo: pmarkham/Flickr

Pipeline at Banzai Beach on Oahu’s North Shore is the world’s most iconic surf break, and a strong contender for most dangerous. The wave, which averages eight to nine feet but can hit up to 20, is known for it’s perfect tube. It's also famous for being shallow, with a hard lava reef lurking just feet below the surface. A wipeout can lead to a severe case of reef rash, a head wound, or worse, can grab and hold you under. To compound things, a rigid pecking order at Pipeline means pros and locals are entitled to the best, cleanest waves. Visitors and Pipe virgins have to fight for unpredictable “scrap” waves. That’s what got aspiring Japanese pro Moto Watanabe in trouble in January 2010. He launched into what looked like an average swell only to have the wave mutate into a massive curl, driving his head into his own board. He died 11 days later. While the Pipeline averages one death per year, it’s indiscriminate, taking pros and novices alike.    

If you have the brass to challenge the Pipe, start out on a day with smaller swells. Not only will you avoid some of the jostling at the lineup, you’ll get a crash course in how to survive it. When the wave catches up to you—and it will—make sure to keep clear of your board, which can cause injuries, and go down feet first in case you get slammed into the reef.