Pipeline’s First Round Knockout
SURFING staff photographer Brent Bielmann retraces the first swell of the year at Pipeline, and his near-debilitating incident while shooting.
I have been shooting water photography for about ten years now (since I was sixteen). For the most part, the majority of that ten years has been spent out at Pipeline. I feel very comfortable out there and it’s one of my favorite places to be.
Two days ago, we had our first opening swell at Pipe. It was a little too big on a lot of the sets and washing through. However, there were a handful of great waves in between that guys were getting. I swam in the morning, then hiked to the mountain for a few lineup shots. Afterwards, I was hanging at the Volcom house contemplating if I should swim out. It looked like the swell was peaking and a bit out of control still. I said to Kaimana Henry, “What’s the worst that could happen, I’ll just get some exercise.”
I made my way into the lineup and shot a few empty waves. Then, all of the sudden, an inside north peak connected with a west one and ledged up on the inside. It broke just in front of me. I went to swim under, but it just sucked dry and there wasn’t really anywhere to go. I just wasn’t paying attention, daydreaming, and it caught me off guard. I remember my lower back being slammed against the bottom first and then the back of my helmet. The impact felt like someone slamming the back of my head with a baseball bat. The next thing I remember was being on the surface and taking a huge gasp for air. My mind instantly told me to move my legs, but I couldn’t. Dazed and not sure what exactly had just happened I started stroking for the shore. I don’t think I even realized my camera had been blown off my wrist, I just knew I had to get to the beach.
Slowly I was ably to start moving my toes and gradually my legs. Just before I arrived to the shoreline my camera floated just in front of me – it seemed the current had taken us to the same place. Really sore and out of it, I made my way to the lifeguards. They had some EMT’s on site who examined me and insisted I get in the ambulance. I remember being very stubborn and saying no (my ego was getting the better of me). As the minutes passed I became more and more out of it, not really remembering how I got there or who people were. I do remember Zak Noyle coming there concerned – showing his true character and friendship. He had come in after hearing I had lost my camera. Thanks Zak.
By the time I was in the ambulance I was really confused about everything that was going on and kept thinking I had to be dreaming. I was very fortunate to have nothing broken and no damage to my spinal cord. I had a bad concussion, some possible ligament damage to my knee and ankle (hopefully minor) and hematoma in my lower lumbar/back area. I feel very fortunate as things could have been much worse. I have no doubt in my mind that my helmet saved me from maybe the worst outcome. I could really care less now if people think that a helmet may look uncool or if its feels uncomfortable while shooting. But I can tell you first hand how important they are in big, or small, conditions. – Brent Bielmann
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