The North Shore of Oahu is an amazing place. Every October surfers from all over the globe invade its waves hoping to score some of the best barrels in the world at surfings ultimate theater. Pipeline and Backdoor fill the thoughts and dreams of anyone who has been lucky enough to visit that incredible stretch of sand and reef from Log Cabins to V-land. The reef, crowd, and waves combine to put on an exhilarating show that can be heaven to some and hell to others. As soon as you pick up your new 7'4'' to put on a fresh coat of wax you feel a twinge of fear inside you. That feeling drives a lot of surfers who surf the north shore. I was lucky enough to be one of those surfers, and I will never forget the images I saw this year.
Walking through the beach entrance at Off The Wall, a group of spectators are checking the surf and waiting for the perfect time to go out. Beyond them a six-foot closeout set breaks at Off The Wall. Only two people sit out the back because the swell direction is wrong and most waves are closing out. They are hoping to see a rare peak appear and reap the benefits of a deep barrel as their reward for waiting. Turning right and walking past the stone wall, the North East trade winds blow against my face. The sand feels soft and comfortable beneath my feet, but as I look up all my focus shifts to the waves at Pipeline and backdoor. It's a solid six feet, but I've checked the surf reports and know it will be eight to ten feet in a matter of hours. The pack consists of about 35 people. Not too crowded, considering the perfect conditions, but it's still early. A west set approaches as I walk. It's 6-8 feet and 3 waves are perfect stand-up barrels at Pipeline.
Laying my board down on the sand, just above the waters edge, I focus intently on the waves. Watching the waves for 15 minutes gives me an idea of how consistent the sets are, how big it is, and how many waves are in each set. The butterflies in my stomach are present, but I feel confident and ready to paddle out. Fastening my leash securely around my ankle I stand up and wait for the last wave in the set. The wave comes in and explodes on first reef. By the time it reaches the beach all it's energy is gone and it washes harmlessly over the sand. As the water descends I run and jump onto my board catching the backwash out towards the line-up. The water feels cool, but refreshing, and my excitement grows with each stroke towards the outside. The current quickly sweeps me away from the peak at pipe towards the safety of Gums and Ehukai. As I paddle I'm careful of the rocks on the inside because it's low tide and it's very shallow. Even the smaller waves feel powerful to duck dive, but the current easily takes me to the outside. Now, 100 feet down the beach I can see the beautiful shape of the waves from a different angle. A 6 foot set rolls through, and the perspective I witness from the shoulder is un-like any other. The set hits the reef and one by one the waves throw very quickly into round open barrels. The barrels funnel down the reef and as the massive plumes of spit evaporate triumphant surfers emerge. The pack yells their approval for one of the best sets of the day.
Reaching the outskirts of the line-up I take a seat to be courteous and to watch the show. The waves look perfect, but critical, and the 35 surfers in the pack look hungry for their fill. The sets are consistent and the waves move across the reef very quickly due to the 20-second ground swell that originated off of Japan. Each set seems to grow in size and power.
Even the very best at pipe are having difficulties making their bottom turns into the barrel safely. Most of the waves are too fast and only some of the sets hit the reef perfectly. I begin to get more confident and paddle to the deep inside of the pack hoping to get an insider. A few 4-6 foot waves approach. Everyone on the inside jockeys for position. Itís chaos; eight surfers swing around and paddle, everyone trying to get deeper than everyone else. I paddle over the back to look at the second of the set, see a good five-foot wave, swing around in perfect position and paddle my ass off. One of the guys who paddled for the first wave decides to swing around right in front of me so there's no way I can catch it.
Shrugging it off, I paddle back out for another attempt. Sitting for another 10 minutes I watch guys get barrel after barrel. The sun is coming up over the hills to the east and it turns the water to a beautiful emerald green. The palm trees on the beach sway in the wind, and the photographers are setting up in search of an illusive cover shot. A small six-foot set is coming; Looking around I see that I am the deepest guy on the inside. I turn and paddle hard to go left at Pipe, and look back to see the wave jack up as it hits the reef. My board is getting sucked up the face, but I feel the waves push and know I'm in. Popping to my feet the wave begins to throw causing my body to extend; I barely hold on through the bottom turn, and the wave outruns me. I straighten out as the wave explodes on my tail, sending me flying into the air. Landing out in front of the wave, the whitewash engulfs me. It feels like some kind of machine is trying to rip my limbs off as I'm being rag-dolled. The wave gives me a fierce beating all the way to the inside, but the hold down isn't too long. Reaching the surface I regain my breath, shake off the dizziness, and paddle back out, relieved I didn't hit the reef.
Now that the first oneís out of the way Iím more confident and relaxed. Sitting in the middle of the pack I wait. Within 10 minutes another wave comes. A small 4 footer that doesn't really barrel, but allows for a turn.
Again I inch myself into the middle of the pack and wait.
Another 6 foot set approaches. The third wave looks good and I paddle hard for it. The wave doesn't let me in so I turn around to look for the next one. No waves approach, but everyone in the pack is paddling out and to the right as hard as possible. Looking to the horizon I see giant mounds of water feathering on the outer reefs. Fear and adrenaline pump through my body as I paddle out with all my strength. This is by far the biggest set of the day and without a doubt will break on second reef.
Scrambling over the first two waves of the set I see the pack still paddling. On top of the third wave I see the fourth breaking on second reef, and dig deep, paddling towards the shoulder. The lip of the wave throws out as it bares down on me. Duckdiving as deep as I can I try to dip through the lip. As the wave passes over me it's force pulls me down and back towards the beach, but I'm just able to make it through the back. Looking towards the open ocean I see the biggest set of the day is over. An excited sense of relief mixes with the adrenaline still surging through me.
With the pack spread out, I quickly paddle back into position. A small six-foot set approaches from the North West and a rare backdoor wave forms. I paddle into the wave in perfect position, and pop to my feet. The drop is relatively easy, but as I start my bottom turn the wave hits the reef. The lip throws into a perfectly round cylinder, and I enter the barrel standing up. The crystal clear blue green water surrounds me with the sun shining through the lip lighting my surroundings. I'm intently focused on the lip, but it's perfectly tapered so all I have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. The reef beneath me becomes more defined as it gets shallower, and the barrel gets thicker as it hits the inside section. The wave begins to slow down, and I'm shot out with an explosion of spit that creates a stinging sensation all over my body. As the spit clears I see that I'm cruising on the shoulder towards the beach. Filled with excitement I go in. reaching the shore, I know that luck was on my side and that might be the best barrel I'll ever have at backdoor.
||Pete Devries lives in Tofino and is the top ranked pro junior in Canada. Pete competes in all the pro comps he can afford to travel to. firstname.lastname@example.org