Pipeline Pro – A Brief and Colorful History and Why You Want to Tune In Throughout the Year

Pipeline Pro – A Brief and Colorful History and Why You Want to Tune In Throughout the Year

Picture of Grace Towle

Grace Towle

Living on Oahu, Grace Towle knows all the best places where locals go.

The Billabong Pipeline Pro — considered by many to be the Super Bowl of Surfing — was held on the January 2022 on Oahu’s North Shore. Fifty four of the sport’s top competitors for the year gathered to glide and carve through this legendary wave, and for the first time women were officially part of the program.  

Whether you are one of the 23 million who consider themselves a surfer or one of the roughly 1.5 billion who watch these amazing athletes on social media, this is the contest to tune into.

Originally called the Hawaiian Masters, former World Champion Fred Hemmings threw together the first contest in 1971 with a $1,000 purse from Continental Airlines at one of his favorite surf breaks, Banzai Pipeline — named for an underground pipeline that was being added under Kamehameha Highway back in the ’60s (the name stuck). It was a six-person, one-heat event, and the waves were so average that new hot shot, Gerry Lopez, checked the waves in the morning and drove all the way back to Honolulu because he didn’t think the event would run. That year Jeff Hakman took the first place prize.

Times have changed since that first contest. A brief glance at the contest’s host  World Surf League’s (WSL) annual schedule and you’ll see nearly 150 competitions around the world — the number is an order of magnitude larger if one counts all surfing contests that include junior and amateur events. Pipeline is the creme de la creme of contest venues, the most photographed wave in the world and has many more entities, in addition to the WSL, who vie for permission to hold  competitions on these hallowed sands.

Feature Photo: Carissa Moore courtesy of Keoki Saguibo/World Surf League
Zeke Lau_Oahu_Billabong Pipeline Pro_credit Bryan McDonald_800x450
Photo: Zeke Lau courtesy of Bryan McDonald

What’s New in 2022?

For the first time ever, WSL’s Pipeline event is being held as the kick off of their season and Championship Tour (CT) rather than their finale. Furthermore, and most excitingly, this is the first time in the history of the women’s championship tour that they are running a full time women’s event at Pipeline. This year’s event is a must-see showdown of some of the best men and women surfers at one of the most legendary breaks. 

We talked to the CEO of the WSL, Erik Logan, about the WSL’s plans to grow its audience, how this event plays into the vision for the WSL’s future, and what he is looking forward to in this upcoming season.

Carissa Moore_Oahu_Billabong Pipeline Pro_credit Keoki Saguibo:World Surf League via Getty Images_800x450
Photo: Carissa Moore courtesy of Keoki Saguibo/World Surf League
Erik Logan: World Surf League CEO 

Q: As surfing grows in popularity, what is the WSL doing to grow its audience?

A: We stream everything for free globally on YouTube and our app. We have broadcasters in Hawaii, the US, Europe, and we are also experimenting with new platforms, like going live on Tik Tok. We want to be on as many phones and devices as possible with our sport, and we want to meet the fans where they are. 

The second part is engaging the youth and engaging this equality narrative that we have. We have some of the youngest women competing in the history of our sport, and we have more rookies than ever before, for example, Caitlin Summers qualified for the tour at age 15. We are building the bridge from somebody like Kelly Slater, who is winning heats at 49, with those he’s competing with who weren’t even born when he won his first world title. This is an amazing moment in our sport and so unique because we can reach down and expand inside these younger communities and encourage these kids to come up. 

The third part about the whole redesign of the tour is constructed to reach down deep. We have three levels of our tour now. There’s the Championship Tour, which we have today, the Challenger Series, which is our qualifying series, and now we have the Regional Series. In this new series, there is a dedicated Hawaii tour that qualifies young men and women into the challenger series for the first time. All in all, we are growing our sport through the design, distribution, and talent level.

Q: Tell us about this year, and how it feels to see your vision for the WSL begin to play out. 

A: It has been two years of work leading up to starting this event at Pipeline. There have been a lot of people focused on this equality moment for a competition, and this is the first time the women are joining the men at Pipeline and the first time the women are surfing every event as the men in the entire Championship Tour season. We were the first international sports league to have gender equality and pay equality in 2019, and now we need to make sure, from a playing field perspective, we continue to push that envelope for equality. This season is the culmination of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours of work with a lot of people. We have been working with our local communities, like the North Shore, and others around the world, to adjust and move our permits to make this year happen.  We are most excited about taking off the season with the full realization of what we’ve been working on and dating all the way back to the beginning of 2020. 

Q: What are you looking forward to most for the rest of this season? 

A: We are looking forward to seeing how the whole year plays out. Right now I am focused on our women at Pipeline and Sunset because they are starting at these events with the men for the first time. As we get into the balance of the first half of our season, I think the mid-season cut will be an exciting and profound change in the tour. When it takes place, we will say goodbye to about a third of the tour, cutting down from right now levels to only 22 men and 10 women. This will create a lot of early-season tension and drama because no one is guaranteed a spot on the back half of the tour. Right now it’s all eyes on Pipe, then all eyes on Sunset, and then at a certain point, people will start doing the math, and some men and women will be like, ‘oh boy I really need to get something in here.’ We will see a pressure that we’ve never seen in this Championship Tour early in the season, which I think will be exciting for fans.

John John Florence_Oahu_Billabong Pipeline Pro_credit Tony Heff:World Surf League via Getty Images_800x450
Photo: John John Florence courtesy of Tony Heff/World Surf League

A Word from the Contest

Throughout the competition, we saw incredible performances on both sides. History was made when Kelly Slater won his 8th Pipeline event at the age of 49, and Moana Jones Wong, a wildcard, took the win over reigning world champion, Carissa Moore.

We talked to former Big Wave World Champion Makua Rothman and former women’s tour competitor Jessi Miley-Dyer about why this year was so special for the sport’s move of equality.

Makua Rothman: Big Wave World Champion 

Q: Why is this year so special for WSL and this event at Pipeline? 

A: There has never been a Pipe Championship Tour event for the women, making this the inaugural women’s championship tour event. It is amazing to see the girls out here testing themselves on this hard wave. This year in the WSL the women’s events are being paired with the men’s. The women definitely have their work cut out for them, and it’s going to show that women’s surfing is on a whole new level and demands a whole new respect. 

Q: As someone born and raised on the North Shore, surfing Pipe, what has the evolution of women’s surfing looked like?

A: The evolution of women’s surfing has come a long way in this stereotypical men’s sport. Men are bullies and the girls are really holding their own out there, surfing better than the men in some spots, and earning their spot in the lineup. It goes to show that women can do anything they put their mind to and I’m very proud of the women stepping up, not only in surfing, but getting their voice out there and having the equal opportunity. 

Q: Who should we be keeping our eyes on?

A: Definitely keep your eye on Bethany Hamilton, Moana Jones Wong, and the queen Carissa Moore. 

Jessi Miley-Dyer: Former Tour Competitor

Q: As a former competitor on the tour and in your 10 years of working with the WSL, what is it like to have the addition of a women’s event at Pipeline?

A: You can’t understand the symbolism. Not only have women never competed here, but Pipeline is such a heavy line up and it’s such a hard place to get waves. The idea of having our own time and our own access to the wave is such an important experience. The biggest thing for me is the equal pay and that the women get to go to all the same spots for the competitions. The platform is equal on both sides and you’re going to be giving out a World Title to the men and women on the same day on the same stage, standing next to each other. 

Q: What is the energy among the women competing, both in the water and on the beach?

A: Everyone knows how special it is. The fact this year is such a big deal, you see the for the first time people walking around the lineup visibly proud. Especially the teenagers; they have the feeling of, “Yes this is us!”

Q: Who should we keep our eyes on?

A: Carissa Moore is always a favorite, but also Tyler Wright and Moana Jones Wong. Moana is representing her home break and showing off her expertise. 

Pipeline was just the kick off for what is sure to be an exciting year of surfing. Watch out for the Championship Tour events in Peniche, Portugal, Bells Beach, Australia, and the finals in California.  To find the full 2022 tour schedule check out their website or Instagram @WSL.

Looking for more on Oahu?

Visit our Oahu page to find more exciting events and fun things to do!

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