The most famous surf spot in the world, Pipe is capable of pulling the most incredible disappearing acts. During times of minor or no swell (such as summer), the casual observer rolling up to Ehukai Beach Park and gazing west wouldn’t have any idea it was there.
Pipeline benefits from an outer reef refraction effect, which with the ideal swell direction (WNW-NW) and size will focus an abundance of waves into this zone. When such a swell hits the North Shore, suddenly the wave that wasn’t there before comes roaring back with all the energy and beauty that has drawn surfers for generations. Depending on the direction, size, and period, this wave will become peakier with a dual option. In addition to the Pipeline Left, a super-hollow right known as Backdoor will open up and funnel across the shallow reef toward its close neighbor of Off-The-Wall.
Classic Pipe (the left) relies on two outer reefs — Outer Log Cabins and Third Reef — to refract an approaching WNW-NW swell into a long wall finishing with a tapered peak that hits the inside reef, known as First Reef, about 60 to 80 yards offshore. First Reef is mostly flat solid lava with a few small caves under the takeoff zone, which will create distinct boils on the wave face. Even when it’s small, a WNW-NW swell at First Reef is always tremendously powerful, breaking hard on the reef and holding a lot of energy in the lip. When in the two-to-three feet overhead zone, it’s an exciting left barrel that almost looks user friendly. Around the double overhead mark, it’s arguably at its most dangerous, sucking brutally hard off the shallowest patch of reef. From double to triple overhead, it opens up a little more, with some waves breaking on another slab of the inside reef about 10-15 yards outside the main zone, allowing a little easier entry (relatively speaking). At around 4 times overhead-plus, waves begin breaking in big, foamy lumps on Second Reef, another 80 yards or so outside. Then, Pipe itself becomes a second reform section – sometimes a steep walled, close-out; other times a mad belching pit; and other times it is simply washed out by an avalanche of white-wash rolling through from Second Reef.
The wave is prone to sand build up along the inside reef, especially along the fringe near the Ehukai Channel, which occurs during north to northeast swells and the current sweeping from Rocky Point toward Pipe — this scenario is common through the Summer months and shoulder seasons. When sand is packed tight along this reef line, Pipe becomes a hideous closeout, particularly with swells slightly north of west. Depending on just how much sand is built-up, it usually takes a solid WNW-NW swell or two to clear it out.