Behind the scenes at the Pipe Masters

Written by on 16th December 2013
Published in Photos, Surfing, Travel
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Being in Hawaii and watching the Pipe Masters live on the beach is a hell of a lot different than watching it online. You can’t sleep the night before, the traffic is insane, and there is energy in the air. You breathe in the atmosphere, you can feel the tension in the air and as you are standing next to the pros, you know you are watching people make history. You realize Pipeline isn’t perfect and people really are risking their lives. Yet, it’s amazing, there’s no doubt about that.

Words & Photos: Micah Lester

The Beach at Pipe Masters
There are the obvious differences in watching Pipe live to watching online: your seat is as close as you can get without getting wet, it’s hot, humid and the sun is blazing, there’s a girl next to you dancing with a hula-hoop and a silent disco in her head. There are also some not-so-obvious things I’ve noticed being right there on the sand compared to watching it on my laptop.

Imagine this scenario …

The night before the event the waves picked up; they were huge! So big in fact that the crashing waves shake the houses. As each set breaks, all your windows and doors rattle in their frame.

It makes it hard to sleep, so you can only imagine how hard it would be if you’re in the contest knowing you have to paddle out in the morning no matter how big it is.

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You realise Pipeline isn’t perfect and people really are risking their lives. Yet, it’s amazing, there’s no doubt about that.

The next morning, you set out on your mission to get there. Will you drive? Hell no! Bike? Maybe. Walk? Probably. There is only one road to get to Pipe, Kamehameha Highway.

It’s two lanes, one in and one out. By 7am, traffic going to the contest was at a stand still. It’s faster to walk even if it’s a couple of miles. That’s what I did, but I didn’t have to walk miles, lucky for me ;)

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As you step on to the sand, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, it’s awe-inspiring. The 10-15 foot waves are breaking super close to the beach and it’s not many steps from the beach path to the shoreline.

You are so close to the action that you can whistle and shout to the guys in the heat and they will hear you. When a big set breaks, the water washes up across the sand almost to the bottom of the houses and this is where you actually sit to watch the contest.

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You couldn’t buy a better seat and this one is free. This chaotic seating “arrangement” also helps create the atmosphere as most of the houses are rented out by the big surf companies during the contest and are filled with their team riders, media, coaches, wives and close friends. They are only six feet above you and you can hear them shouting to the guys in the heat when a set comes.

You can feel the tension as the surfer gets the score or falls on the wave. You can hear them talking, their coaches prepping them, their wives scream as they wipeout and their mates hoot as they pull in to a monster set. After the heat, the athletes walk past you and through the crowd to go back home.

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The biggest contrast of watching the contest up close and personal is that you get to see it for how it really is. There are no replays, no multiple zoomed-in angles, no adverts. You see what the judges see, the commitment and the pressure.

There are people questioning Mick Fanning’s world title winning wave; some people say it shouldn’t have gotten the score needed to take the title.

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I was on the beach and when that wave came through it was intense, the last minute of the heat and out of nowhere the whole ocean stood up. It was one of the biggest waves of the day and you could feel the pressure Mick was under and see the commitment he took to get it. If you were on the beach watching in person and not a zoomed-in replay, then you would see the winning wave for yourself. That’s the biggest thing to consider while making this comparison.

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There are people questioning Mick Fanning’s world title winning wave; some people say it shouldn’t have gotten the score needed to take the title. I was on the beach and when that wave came through it was intense…

That was also the difference during that same day when John John won the Triple Crown and when Slater won the event. The biggest question for me was during the final in the last minutes John John needed a 7.8. he waited half the heat for his Backdoor winning wave and got it with out a second to spare. As he got spat out of the barrel he kept his cool just as a surfer of his level should.

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He didn’t sell it to the judges throwing his hands in the air celebrating with confidence (even deservingly) as Mick and Slater on their highest scoring waves. He got a 7.4 missing out on the win by 0.4. Was that the difference? Either way the three event favorites walked away with the Triple Crown, the Pipe Master trophy and the World Title.

All in all, I would have to say – it was pretty amazing being there to see it all go down.

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