A few days ago, after Kauaiian charger Tyler Newton's first heat during the Da Hui Backdoor Shootout, I asked him what it looked like inside his giant 11.5-scoring tube.
"I don't remember anything after I started paddling for the wave," he said.
Fair enough. The past few days have been a blur for every Shootout competitor, and the entire North Shore in general, given the incredible surf and superhuman performances that seemed to only ramp up day after day.
For the last two weeks, in fact, the action on the North Shore has been building toward something grand. Or at least that's how its felt staying front and center at the Weedmaps house just a stone's throw from the most iconic barrel on earth. This year marks Weedmaps' third annual "Pipe Dreams" experience, during which Weedmaps brings their team of skaters, surfers, moto and bmx riders into the same house to connect, swap notes from the top of their respective fields and enjoy the Pipeline show right out front. It's a unique gathering, filled with fascinating conversations about how each athlete approaches their passions and a lot of mutual admiration. Motocross high flyer Colby Raha does not understand how Nathan Fletcher goes out into maxed out Pipeline and comes out unscathed, and Nathan is equally as baffled by Colby's ability to launch 30 feet out of a quarter pipe on his motorcycle.
You'd be forgiven for assuming the Weedmaps house is just a nonstop party, but in truth it bears more in common with a wellness retreat. Morning yoga, healthy meals, massages, various CBD products and vitamin-packed IV's are all on offer for the athletes trying to perform at their physical peak. Which brings us to the real reason everyone is here in the first place: the Da Hui Backdoor Shootout.
Over the past few years, the Shootout has solidified itself as one of the most unique and compelling contests in surfing. Eight teams of four get to surf Pipeline six times during preliminary rounds (which translates into 4 enviable hours of perfect, empty Pipeline), with each individual surfer's top three waves overall being counted. And because some waves at Pipe are that crazy, the scoring scale goes to 12.
Weedmaps won the team event back in 2017, and due to the staggering talent in their roster, their chances of a repeat looked good from the outset. This year their Shootout crew consisted of Josh and Seth Moniz, Bruce Irons and Tyler Newton, all of whom drew the first heat of the contest amid a new 10- to 15-foot west swell filtering into Pipeline—as good and heavy as it gets.
Seth Moniz was strangely missing from the heat, however, and it turned out he was stuck in traffic trying to get from town to Pipeline. Luckily Nathan Fletcher was on hand to fill in as alternate for the opening heat, and alternate or not, he's far from second string at Pipe. In the heat, Fletcher laid down a few face carves at second reef before kick-stalling into wide open cave on the double-up section. The waves had reached the size where wave selection was absolutely critical, not just in terms of scoring potential, but also in terms of survival. Tyler Newton sniffed out an absolute gem, dropping in and engaging a wide bottom turn, almost losing his fins before parking in a truck-sized barrel. From the very first heat, Tyler looked like he already had one foot on the podium.
The next day the swell had settled in and walls were standing up as big as First Reef gets. As the heats progressed through the day, local heroes like Jamie O'Brien and Koa Rothman threaded so many death-defying, white-knuckle tubes that it was exhausting even watching from the safety of land. As the conditions improved through the day, Team Japan paddled into an empty lineup filled with dreamy Pipe tubes. The Japanese surfers had been posted up at Off The Wall all week, respectfully waiting for their turn for bombs—which, for some, never came. But once they found themselves in a clear lineup and were free to do as they pleased with Pipe and Backdoor, they showed their true colors. Keito Matsuoka's monster Pipe tube scored to the tune of a perfect 12 was a master class in commitment. After shaking about 40 hands while walking back up the beach after his life-changing wave, I asked him to about the ride and all he could say was, "So scary. So, so scary." While he may have been gripped by terror on the inside, on the outside he projected steely resolve, sticking the beyond-vertical drop and getting blown out of what many are saying is the best wave to be ridden at Pipeline in the last few years.
By their third heat, team Weedmaps had gotten threading monstrous Pipe tubes down to a science. Bruce locked in multiple high 9s and the Moniz brothers were making everything. But it was Tyler Newton who found the otherworldly, seemingly-impossible barrels and then proceeded to deftly escape their maw.
As a devilish south wind hit the lineup midway through finals day, the contest was decidedly concluded by Da Hui. Tyler was left at the top of the leader board with Jamie O'Brien in second, while Bruce and the Moniz brothers' consistent performances helped push the Weedmaps team over the line to win the team division. The "Pipe Dream" had been realized, and the crew of action sports icons hanging out at the Weedmaps house were starting to pick their jaws up off the floor. Even by the standards of Pipe veterans, this was a Shootout to remember. For those who didn't come from a surfing background, the whole thing had been difficult to fathom.
Back at the Beach Park, Tyler's acceptance speech gave the crowd chicken skin. He talked about how only 4 years ago, he was in a very different, very dark place where surfing had taken a backseat in his life.
"I decided one day to stop what I was doing and claw my way back into the surfing world," he said while fighting back tears. "I can't believe I just won the Backdoor Shootout. This is truly a dream come true."
1st: Tyler Newton
2nd: Jamie O'Brien
3rd: Shota Nakamura
4th: Keito Matsuoka
5th: Bruce Irons
1st: Weed Maps
2nd: North Shore Surf Shop
4th: DaHui Wax
6th: Team Japan
7th: CBD MD
8th: Hui O He'e Nalu