Billabong Pipeline Masters: The Holy Grail of Surf Competition

Pipeline Masters in December on the North shore, Oahu

As each calendar year comes to a close, people around the world look forward to the holiday season and all the festivities that come with it. But for true surfing fans, the month of December only means one thing.

The Annual Billabong Pipeline Masters.

Pipeline Overview

Billabong Pipe Masters is known as one of the hardest contests and by far the most dangerous. The athletes who take home the title are regarded as some of the most respected in the sport. This legendary annual affair has taken place at Banzai Pipeline in Oahu, Hawaii since 1970.  Its vicious swells and risky drops have claimed several lives, dozens of injuries and countless broken boards.

To add insult to inevitable injury, the Pipe Masters trial is said to be just as difficult as the actual event itself. The world’s top 32 barrel surfers face off to claim two coveted wildcard spots into the big show and a pot of $100,000.

By the time the roster is set after the showdown at the Quicksilver Pro France, the Meo Rip Curl Pro Portugal, and the Vans World Cup of Surfing, the final lineup is cut down to the top 45 surfers from the World Surf League. The heroic event is the last portion of the Triple Crown of Surfing and the final event on the WSL Championship Tour. First place takes home just over half a million and truly finishes the year with a bang.

The iconic wave is best known for its flawless, top-to-bottom barrels and extreme proximity to the shore A marvelous dream and dreadful nightmare for competing surfers. The sharp slabs of reef and salient coral heads contribute to the enormous amount of power of the wave.

Surfers lay it all on the line to fully encompass themselves inside the massive barrel knowing full well that a wipeout could easily end their life. On the positive side, spectators will be pleased to know that because of the close breaks, spectacular views await each December for all those in attendance.

Crowd at Pipeline Masters looking on in awe

How to Enjoy the Pipeline Masters

Being the final shabang of the surf season, the Pipeline Masters leaves very little viewing room for fans who show up late. The beautiful shoreline gets packed almost immediately. Luckily for you, Rad Season did a little research to find out the best way to experience the event in person.

The first order of business if you are thinking of making the journey to Hawaii, is securing a place to stay.  There is only one hotel on the North Shore which is not only costly, but almost always has no vacancy once December hits. You’re best bet is to book an Airbnb or something similar in advance.

Pipeline Masters large winter swells in December and January

A big swell in January shows pipeline up close and personal. Photo credit: Brian Bielmann

But if you’re on vacation in one of the most beautiful areas in the world, you should be out and about exploring anyway! The local eats and shopping centers will captivate the stomachs and attention of tourists from around the globe.  

Old Town Haleiwa is a local hotspot for awesome surf shops and local art galleries. Across the street from the actual beach is a awe-inspiring trail known as the Ehukai Pillbox hike. It is a 30-minute journey that will take you to the top of the hillside to look over the entire coastline. If possible, get up there by sunset. You will never forget the breathtaking views.

The actual event is free of charge and parking can be found in the surrounding area although it is usually very hard to find a spot. A great alternative option is taking the bus which runs from the Ala Moana Center to the North Shore. Another big thing to keep in mind is understanding that the competition is only held under the right conditions. The Pipe Masters can have up to a 12 day waiting period before the actual heats begin. Remember to plan for delays and constantly check the local news station update.

Below is a quick directions guide from Waikiki:

– Take the H-1 Hwy West to the H-2 Hwy North
– Follow the H-2 Hwy to the Kamehameha Hwy (hwy 99)
– Take Hwy 99 and continue into Haleiwa Town
– or by pass Haleiwa Town, and continue on Hwy 99 and merge onto Hwy 83, which will lead you to the coastline.
– Continue on Hwy 83, until you see a Waimea Bay Beach Park sign on your left hand side.
– Turn into the parking lot and you are there.

Hawaii is packed with things to do, beaches to explore and waves to be shredded. If you happen to be on the island during the month of December, the Pipeline Masters is a must-see action sport event.

Plan ahead of time, find a spot on the shore and gawk at the incredible talent these world-class surfers have to offer. For exact dates and more information check out the Rad Season Billabong Pipeline Masters page or the World Surf League site.

Feature image credit: Bluesnapper

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Harry R Bennett III

Harry R. Bennett III is a Los Angeles native who grew up addicted to playing sports. His love for the game of baseball eventually landed him several scholarships to play college ball across the United States. After receiving his B.A. in journalism, he pushed himself out of his comfort zone and moved to New York City in an effort to pursue his passion in the sports industry.

Bennett has worked with major companies such as Fox Sports and Major League Baseball and has written for several online publications covering a variety of sports content. Although his playing days are over, he enjoys the endless pursuit of competition from athletics and action sports.

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