Pipeline Masters


Annual men's-only professional surfing competition held in December at Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu; founded in 1971 by former world surfing champion Fred Hemmings of Hawaii. Because the explosive tubes at Pipeline are regarded as one of the great wonders of the surfing world, and because the waves break just 75 yards off the beach, the Pipeline Masters has long been regarded as the sport's top surfing contest. "There's nothing like it," surf writer Nick Carroll noted, "for showcasing the sport at its absolute staggering best."

Different from every other surfing contest in the world—with the exception of the Tahiti Pro, held in Pipeline-like barrels at Teahupoo—the Masters is designed as a tuberiding event. Turns and cutbacks are scored, but if the surf is cooperating (every few years the Masters is plagued by nonhollow waves), the win goes to the surfer who can ride deepest in the tube for the longest period of time in heat after heat. Almost every edition of the Masters has produced at least a few moments of high drama, and more often than not it proves to be the best event of the season.

The Hawaiian Masters, as it was originally known, was conceived and developed by Fred Hemmings three years after he won the 1968 World Surfing Championships. Continental Airlines contributed the $1,000 prize purse to the inaugural Masters. Just six surfers were invited to the single-heat event, held December 16 in "a rather docile six-foot-plus swell," as Hemmings later recalled. The "officials area" consisted of some plastic bunting, 10 metal folding chairs, and a card table; fewer than 50 spectators were scattered across the beach. Hawaiian pro surfer Jeff Hakman took the $500 first-place check in an event that went completely unreported in the surf press. The most intriguing aspect to the debut Masters is that Pipeline prodigy Gerry Lopez of Hawaii was a no-show—allegedly because third-place finisher Corky Carroll of California told Lopez the event had been postponed.

The Masters evolved slowly; it was a single-heat contest until 1975, and the prize purse didn't hit $10,000 until 1980. The Masters was included in the world pro tour's debut season in 1976, and has been part of the tour every year except 1983, 1984, 1985, and 2001. It was the world tour's season finale in 1992 and 1993, from 1995 to 2000, and each year since 2002.

Surf history has often been made at the Masters. Simon Anderson of Australia won in 1981 and showed that his new tri-fin surfboard, already proven in smaller surf, worked just as well in the big, powerful Hawaiian waves. Hawaiian surfer Michael Ho won the following year with his right wrist in a cast. In 1983, competitor Steve Massefeller was nearly killed after suffering a massive head injury during a heat. World champions Derek Ho and Tom Carroll both won multiple Masters titles, but it was 11-time world champion Kelly Slater of Florida who became the dominant Masters surfer, winning the event five times during the '90s, and again in 2008. Kauai's Andy Irons set the pace in the 2000s, winning the event four times from 2002 through 2006.

The surf video 25 Years of Pipeline was released in 1995 to commemorate the Masters' 25th anniversary; The Pipeline Masters, a one-hour documentary in honor of the event's 30th anniversary, came out in 2001. ABC-TV's Wide World of Sports covered the Masters from 1972 to 1982; NBC aired the 2001 event. In 2006, director Stacey Peralta released the documentary film Pipeline Masters, a five-decade history of the break and of the best Masters performances.

Pipeline Masters sponsors over the years have included Primo, O'Neill, Offshore, Marui, Chiemsee, Mountain Dew, X-Box, Rip Curl and Billabong; the event is part of the Triple Crown of Surfing, a three-contest series held on the North Shore.

Prize money for the Masters topped $100,000 in 1991; the 2013 event was worth $450,000.

Pipeline Masters winners:

1971: Jeff Hakman
1972: Gerry Lopez
1973: Gerry Lopez
1974: Jeff Crawford
1975: Shaun Tomson
1976: Rory Russell
1977: Rory Russell
1978: Larry Blair
1979: Larry Blair
1980: Mark Richards
1981: Simon Anderson
1982: Michael Ho
1983: Dane Kealoha
1984: Joey Buran
1985: Mark Occhilupo
1986: Derek Ho
1987: Tom Carroll
1988: Robbie Page
1989: Gary Elkerton
1990: Tom Carroll
1991: Tom Carroll
1992: Kelly Slater
1993: Derek Ho
1994: Kelly Slater
1995: Kelly Slater
1996: Kelly Slater
1997: Johnny-Boy Gomes
1998: Jake Patterson
1999: Kelly Slater
2000: Rob Machado
2001: Bruce Irons
2002: Andy Irons
2003: Andy Irons
2004: Jamie O'Brien
2005: Andy Irons
2006: Andy Irons
2007: Bede Durbidge
2008: Kelly Slater
2009: Taj Burrow
2010: Jeremy Flores
2011: Kieren Perrow
2012: Joel Parkinson
2013: Kelly Slater
2014: Julian Wilson
2015: Adriano de Souza