Hawaii Surfing, Oahu’s Pipeline

Oahu Banzai Pipeline surfer

Oahu Banzai Pipeline surfer

The art of “wave sliding” has been an expression of the Hawaiian people for centuries.


Pipeline, Oahu

Pipeline, Oahu

From October to March, the winter storms of the Pacific Ocean deliver large ocean swells (i.e., a series of ocean waves) to the north side of the Hawaiian Islands, perfect for surfing. The North Shore of Oahu is legendary for surfing.


About a two-hour drive north of Waikiki is Oahu’s North Shore Banzai Pipeline. It is also known as Ehukai Beach, and attracts the best surfers from around the world. Every December they host “the Super Bowl of Surfing” here, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing competition.


One day last November we visited the Pipeline, strictly to observe, and I came away with a new respect and awe for this beautiful sport.

Pipeline, Oahu

Pipeline, Oahu

Many variables influence the ocean waves: winds, tides, storms, currents, underwater channels and reefs, sand, and freshwater runoff.


By looking at the map below, you see that the north shore of Oahu (in red) is wide open to the northern hemisphere. Winter storms move across the Pacific Ocean and hit the first land mass of the Hawaiian Islands.


The mixing of the arctic cold air with Hawaii’s warm tropic air forces the warm air to rise rapidly, affecting barometric pressure and increasing ocean surface wind. In essence, the northern hemisphere’s storm energy is transferred into the ocean by the wind. The result: the harder the winds blow, the larger the waves.


Bathymetry, or the study of the ocean floor, reveals that under the water at Pipeline is a flat tabletop reef that has several internal caverns. Air bubbles from the caverns, and the shallowness of the reef further contribute to the wave action.


Add to that the varying factors of wind, fetch (wind-generated waves), and swell period, and you have the complicated science of surfing.


“Mechanics of Pipeline” describes it well, demonstrating geology and the numerous reef wave patterns, and showing satellite images of this unique reef. It also has some of the best surfing photos you’ll ever see.


Click here for the link; then click on “Next” at the top of the page for an in-depth surfing lesson.

Surfboards, Pipeline, Oahu

Surfboards, Pipeline, Oahu


Wikipedia Banzai Pipeline info here.

Wikipedia History of Surfing here.


Pipeline, Oahu surfer

Pipeline, Oahu surfer

That day surfers were smoothly gliding atop the waves, from the wave-break all the way to the shoreline — steady, skilled, excellent.  Those few who were not in the water, were walking on the beach, carrying their surf boards, strategizing their next wave dance.


Ehukai Beach (Pipeline), Oahu

Ehukai Beach (Pipeline), Oahu

The Polynesians were seen riding wood planks on ocean waves back in the late 1700s. Surf boards have changed, technology has advanced, and women join the men now; but here’s a Hawaiian marvel that continues, after centuries, to embrace the culture.  Aloha!


Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

Oahu (1).jpg

Oahu satellite image. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Map of Hawaii highlighting Oahu.svg

Hawaiian Islands, Oahu in red. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Three-time winner of 2016 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, John John Florence. Photo courtesy Triple Crown.




75 thoughts on “Hawaii Surfing, Oahu’s Pipeline

  1. Thank you for the photos and story. I was lucky enough to visit the North Shore in December 1999. Watching the surfers awesome. Your post brought back some really wonderful memories. 🙂

    • Isn’t it wonderful, Iris, how memories of Oahu’s North Shore can bring a smile? I’m glad I brought back wonderful memories for you. Thanks for your comment!

    • Oh how I love knowing this, GP. That’s really cool. I have never followed surfing, so when I visited the Pipeline, I had no idea of the level of expertise here. If you’re ever on Oahu (Pearl Harbor Memorial is there, so I am thinking you have visited this), try to devote a half-day to enjoying the North Shore. You’ll have fun. Thanks for the visit!

  2. Just from reading your post and the “Mechanics of Pipeline,” I join you in awe of this sport. How wonderful you had the opportunity to visit Hawaii and attend the competition. After growing up with a slight fear of the rip currents in Lake Michigan, I have never had a desire to go surfing, but after reading all of this information I wish I had been a little bit more curious about waves and currents. This last year has found an increase in my curiosity about astronomy and now thanks to this post I believe geology has been added to the list. Mahalo for a wonderful post of great information and photos!

    • The joys of life, the curiosity and earnest pursuit of new information — it is a wonderful thing, ACI. Enjoy, my friend! And thanks so much for your visit and wonderful comment today.

  3. Is that you Jet I see surfing? No? … awww. I wish I was there, not looking for the perfect pipeline…I’d just walk around carrying the surfboard and look cool! Great post my friend…enjoy your weekend! 🙂

    • I wish I would’ve thought of that, HJ. lol. I could’ve walked around with my surfboard looking cool, instead of gawking from the sidelines. Your comment made me laugh a lot, what a wonderful thing. Thanks so much. I hope your weekend too, is of laughter, my friend~~

  4. Lovely explanations and photographs! Wave dancing – wonderful description of a skilled and graceful activity. I’ve found that the transition from snowboard to surfboard isn’t one I can achieve. I’ve tried, but was really quite scared when up-ended and floundering in (what felt like) strong waves. I’ll stick to the frozen water…
    Great post, thank you, and have a wonderful weekend!

    • I loved hearing of your snowboard-to-surfboard experience, pc. This proves that a person can be courageous, intrepid, and adventurous, but maybe just not made for surfing. Glad to hear from you, as always — and sending best wishes for a weekend of joy and peace. 🙂

  5. I love observing the surfers as well! It looks so simple…but I have great respect for those who have mastered this sport. Thank you for a very informative article and great pics, Jet!

    • HI Susan. You are so right, it is the competent and experienced surfers who we see expertly gliding along the tumultuous waves. In Calif. there are many not-so-experienced folks just learning, or trying for the first time, or taking a surfing class. It’s a lot of tumbling and tossing. I give them great credit for trying. Thanks so much for your visit today. 🙂

  6. Jet for a moment I thought you had taken up surfing in a big way! Fantastic captures Athena! I think I would like to try a surfing lesson on some tame little waves. My balance leaves quite a bit to be desired so it could prove interesting. I have done stand up paddle boarding but I’m best on glass like water. 🙂

  7. Good Sunday morning Jet. Ever since I was a child and saw for the first time on black and white tv or in National Geographic magazines, surfers in Hawaii I have been in awe of the sport. It’s something that I would love to do….but in this lifetime, it is limited to my dreams. 🙂 I found the information you gave about the Banzai Pipeline and overall conditions available in Hawaii that make it such a mecca for Surfers from around the world most interesting. I hope you are enjoying a peaceful and creative Sunday…janet. 🙂

    • Hi Janet, always a delight to hear from you. I’m glad you found the surfing post interesting, I sure enjoyed putting it together, and learning more. With surfing and other water sports (and life in general) there is always so much more going on under the surface. Interesting Sunday morning here–it snowed, hailed, and the sun shined all during breakfast; the hummingbird was so confused by the hail that he flew around in circles, and a Cooper’s hawk was in his desperately cold stage and so was perched in our oak tree staring down the feeders. Now the sun is back to shining and the ice is melting. Spring weather is so unpredictable, I love it. I hope you are enjoying your Sunday, too, my friend. Many thanks, as always.

    • I have seen the surf on Australia’s coast, and you have some lovely surfing territory there, Gail. I love it that you surf. Thanks for your contribution! 🙂

    • It was easy to see, while watching the surfers at the Pipeline, how surfing becomes a way of life. The waves are fleeting, the conditions vary, the dangers and challenges change too; so when the conditions are just right, it’s time to go. A true pleasure to hear from you, David — thank you.

  8. Sigh… that beach! That ocean… Beautiful, exuberant post, Jet.
    You know, I went to Hawaii once. It was the first time I had ever even been on a plane, and I traveled alone. Regardless of anywhere I went afterward, I still think of it as my only “real” vacation. Hugs!

    • I am SO glad to hear that, Untraveled Routes, because that was my intention. Not everybody can surf, not everybody can get to Hawaii, but reading and viewing photos of the adventure can bring many people a little closer. Thank you~~

  9. Thanks for the interesting story and wonderful photos. This is a very beautiful sport and when watching people glide on the board on the waves it seems very simple… But this is not so

  10. Great post Jet, reminded of watching some awesome surfers when we were in HI back in the 80’s – I think we should go back for a visit. Great action shots!!

  11. It was so much fun to read all of these technical details…the story behind this sport that’s fun to WATCH (which Athena’s photos captured beautifully). Thanks, ladies.

  12. Even with days of lessons, I don’t think I’d be able to catch a wave…I think it would be more a case of the wave catching me. Great action shots. I’d love to try someday.

  13. Beautifully captured! I hope I can learn how to surf sometime soon. I only tried windsurfing so far and I found it quite difficult. Still, once you learn a few tricks, it’s quite fun! 🙂

      • I also think it’s very nice. The ocean always has something magic about it. I feel very inspired by it.
        Very nice to check your posts once again. Sorry to be so long away but it’s been pretty busy 🙂 It was nice to read about your adventures, as always! Enjoy your weekend!

  14. My goodness! I love this article! Thank you so much for this! Why didn’t I discover this before? Gosh! Do you know any other places for surfing?

    • You know the utter fascination in watching the Pipeline surfers, I am glad, adventuresofabusymomcom. I learned a new respect for surfing there, glad to share it.

  15. Great blog, Ive always wanted to see people surfing here in Hawaii, we just got here and just started my blog! Feel free to check me out!

    alyparaja.wordpress.com 🙂

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