Birdwell Blog

The history of surfing is the history of surfboard design. I can’t remember who said this, or maybe I said it to myself while watching a clip of some slab wave like Shipstern Bluff or Ours. And it’s true, for the most part, though sometimes the spot precedes the board—Necessity is the mother of invention” goes the proverb.
     Case in point: The Banzai Pipeline. Before it was a surf spot it was a place where surfers sat on the beach and dreamed, inserting themselves into those cavernous barrels.
     Then one day in the winter of 1961, Californian Phil Edwards paddled out on his longboard and got a couple. It was not a huge day, but it was enough for Edwards to determine that it was too dangerous, what with the nasty coral reef lurking just a couple feet below. But it must have haunted him that night, because the following day he went back. This time it was bigger, about six to eight feet, but still he paddled out. He got an epic ride, not quite a deep barrel, but a throaty pocket ride that ended in a torrent of spit that must have felt like needles pelting his back. This story is captured beautifully in Bruce Brown’s Surfing Hollow Days. The name Pipeline came from shaper Mike Diffenderfer, who noticed that the waves looked a lot like the big concrete pipes being used in a nearby construction project.

 

 

     The following winter Pipeline got more play, this time by Californians Butch Van Artsdalen and John Peck, who rode it beautifully despite their cumbersome longboards. But it really came to the fore in the wake of the Shortboard Revolution, circa late ‘60s. The shorter, narrower boards fit better. The tube became the ultimate in waveriding. By 1969 Tom Stone and Jock Sutherland of Hawaii were getting deeply pitted. Then came Gerry Lopez, and so began the world’s most famous and dangerous surf break.

 

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