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The Banzai Pipeline, or simply “Pipeline” or “Pipe,” is a surf reef break located in Hawaii, off Ehukai Beach Park in Pupukea on O’ahu’s North Shore. A reef break is an area in the ocean where waves crash once they reach the shallows of a reef. Pipeline is notorious and famous for its huge waves breaking in shallow water just above its sharp and cavernous reef, forming large, hollow and thick curls of water that surfers can ride inside of. There are three reefs at Pipeline in progressively deeper water further out to sea that activate at various power levels applied by ocean swells. The location’s compound name combines the name of the surf break (Pipeline) with the name of the beach fronting it (Banzai Beach). It got its name in December 1961 when surfing movie producer Bruce Brown was driving the North Shore with California surfers Phil Edwards and Mike Diffenderfer. Brown stopped at the then-unnamed site to film Edwards catching several waves. At the time, there was a construction project on an underground pipeline on adjacent Kamehameha Highway, and Diffenderfer made the suggestion to name the break Pipeline. The name was first used in Brown’s movie Surfing Hollow Days. It also lent its name to a 1963 hit by surf music rockers The Chantays.
Pipeline is best on a strong swell that is pushed from the west, to clear out the sand in the reef that normally closes the wave out (meaning the hollow tube collapses all at once) on strong north swells. It is a flat tabletop reef, with several caverns on the inside, creating a giant air bubble that pops on the front of the wave when the wave lurches upwards just before breaking. There are also several jagged, underwater lava spires that can injure fallen surfers. There are four waves associated with Pipeline. The left (which means the wave breaks from left to right from the perspective of a watcher on shore) known as Pipeline (aka First Reef) is the most commonly surfed and photographed. When the reef is hit by a north swell, the peak (the highest tipping-point of the wave where it begins to curl) becomes an A-frame shaped wave, with Pipe closing out a bit and peeling off left, and the equally famous Backdoor Pipeline peeling away to the right at the same time. As the size at Pipe increases, over 12 feet usually, Second Reef on the outside (further out into the deeper ocean waters) starts breaking, with longer walls (the unbroken face of the wave that the surfer slides across), and more size. At an extreme size an area called Third Reef even further outside starts to break with giant waves.