The essence of the North Shore, when it’s all said and done, is Pipeline. Particularly in the middle of December. With the impending start of the Pipeline Masters, dozens of beachfront houses rented out to surf industry conglomerates, hundreds of weekday spectators flooding the beach, and the world’s best surfers slipping into the most recognizable barrel in the world, even the most hardened cynic has a difficult time keeping that glass half empty.
When Pipeline knocked the dust off the welcome mat and opened its front door midday Thursday, the collective attention of the international surfing community-or at least the faction that’s currently living here on the North Shore-focused itself on that same stretch of reef that has for so long served as the world’s ultimate proving ground. Dozens of the world’s best surfers clogged Pipeline’s lineup, making a seat on the beach the appropriate roosting spot for the day. What’s more, the world’s best photographers were graced with sunlight to shoot. (Factoid: One epic photo from Pipeline translates into financial opportunity for both surfers and photographers, which leads to hard charging and an impressive show.)
By Friday, swell had filled in, the contest got underway, and nine trialists worked their way into the main event. As waves rolled through the second reef, feathered and freight-trained down the beach, names like Marcus Hickman, Kalani Chapman, Jonah Morgan and more provided an unexpected (or, if you live here, expected) display of brilliance. And then there was the typical surfing we’ve come to expect from the likes of Rob Machado, Bruce Irons, and Jamie O’Brien. Though Marcus Hickman drew a perfect 10.0 and Bruce Irons earned a 9.8, O’Brien did the most impressive surfing of the day and, in a completely refreshing display of irreverence to Pipeline, entered a left backside, pulled into the tube, and exited switch stance. Uh…yeah.
Regardless of what took place in and around the water that day, the real story that’s captivated everybody on the North Shore is the impending showdown between Kelly Slater and Andy Irons. Celebrity comes at a price, and never has this been clearer in the surf world than this past month on the North Shore. Whether surfing, bodysurfing, walking, talking, eating, drinking, resting or otherwise involving themselves in their everyday lives, these two past and potentially future champions have been invaded in the manner they’ve probably grown accustomed to over the course of their adult lives.
So Friday night was a quiet one, as nearly everybody on the North Shore awaited the back to back heats of Andy Irons and Kelly Slater in the morning. Both surfers dominated, moving directly into Round 3.
Wish there was more to report from the North Shore, but the majority of energy is being focused on Kelly and Andy. Or Andy and Kelly. But on Sunday, the swell has dropped, the rain stopped, the sun come out and everybody has had a nice little day on the beach. No fights, no fuss. And it’s times like these when it makes sense that the North Shore is the closest thing to the home of the surfing universe.