The first day of the Billabong Pipe Masters on Thursday will not soon be forgotten by any of the competitors who surfed in wildly epic conditions at the notorious Banzai Pipeline on Oahu's North Shore.
A fresh swell and thunderous 15- to 20-foot breakers greeted ASP World Tour competitors for the event's first and second rounds. Some scored amazing rides, including future superstar John John Florence, 19, a local who registered a perfect 10 after getting fully barreled twice on the same wave.
Many surfers struggled because of the incredible volume of water rushing shoreward and jacking up over Pipeline's series of shallow reefs. There were broken boards, bruised bodies and egos, and an overall feeling of trepidation mixed with exhilaration.
"It's as gnarly as Pipe gets," said Tanner Gudauskas, a Southern Californian who endured two broken boards and did not advance past the second round. "I was super nervous watching, so many gnarly wipeouts. I just wanted to make it down the wave face but then I didn't on one wave. It happens so fast in the moment that you don't think about it. I'm just glad to be back on the beach."
The Pipe Masters is the World Tour season-finale and the third jewel in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, led by Florence, who described conditions as "dreamy" after advancing to the third round, which will commence Friday with more large surf on tap.
Jamie O'Brien, another local, described conditions as deadly but added: "These kinds of days I'm scared all day, but it's so fun and exciting. It's kind of cat-and-mouse--you've got to watch out for the big ones, not get cleaned out, then you get a perfect one that comes through."
Hawaii-based surfers fared best, understandably, but the world's top-ranked surfers, including 11-time and reigning world champion Kelly Slater, were seeded directly into the third round and will compete Friday.
One can only imagine what was going through their minds watching the action on Thursday.
— Photo shows Ian Walsh amid a cascade of whitewater at Pipeline on Oahu's North Shore. Credit: Cestari/ASP