She promises glory, but it can come at a price.
As all eyes go towards Pipe and the excitement that is the World Title showdown, there is something else to consider amongst all the glamour and splendor of the Championship Tour – people die surfing Pipe, and people get really hurt surfing Pipe. Let’s have a look.
A quick search reveals the following deaths, all while surfing Banzai Pipe.
Joshua Nakata, local bodyboarder (16 March 2008)
Joaquin Velilla, Puerto Rican surfer (12 January 2007)
Malik Joyeux, Tahitian surfer (2 December 2005)
Jon Mozo, local surf photographer (9 February 2005)
Moto Watanabe, Japanese surfer (19 January 2004)
Travis Mussleman, California surfer (20 March 2000)
Andy Chuda, California surfer (25 March 1989)
Closer to home however, are the following well-documented cases of well-known surfers getting seriously knocked around over the most dangerous slab of reef in the world.
Dusty Payne got smashed into the reef in January of this year and was hospitalized with serious injuries. He took a late drop at Backdoor, disconnected from his board while attempting an airdrop, and hit the reef hard. Dusty broke bones in his face and jaw and lost teeth. He was in ICU for over two weeks and has said that he can’t remember much of what happened during the whole time, from the wipeout to the time he was moved from ICU. Head injuries are always heavy, and at this time Dusty is still making good on the recovery progress. Dusty set up a Gofundme account, with all proceeds going to the North Shore Lifeguard Association and it currently sits at $17,846 out of the $25,000 goal set. So if you want some good karma coming your way, throw down some greens over here https://www.gofundme.com/dustys-thanks
Owen Wright had his slam in December of 2015, and the resultant concussion and brain injury saw him out of the water and working on a slow recovery for the whole of 2016. He got flogged by a big six-wave set alongside Mick Fanning, came in on his own accord, and fell asleep in the Rip Curl house. By the time his mates found him, he was looking pretty seedy and feeling worse. He was sent to hospital and tests were done and it was discovered that he had a severe concussion and an injury to the brain. Wright recovered fully to rejoin the Championship Tour on an injury wildcard, and promptly won the Quiksilver Pro Snapper Rocks at his first event back on tour.
Bede Durbidge was unlucky enough to break his pelvis at Pipeline during one extremely brutal wipeout while competing in the same event as Owen in 2015. His pelvis was fractured in two places and Bede underwent major surgery with plates being inserted on both sides of the pelvis, followed by a lengthy stint in a popping wheelies in a wheelchair. Bede recovered fully to become the Australian Olympic Surfing Coach.
During the Volcom Pipe Pro in 2016, Leonardo Fioravanti suffered a massive wipeout on a super late takeoff only to emerge with a broken back. It was another nasty recovery process for the young surfer from Rome, but he too made a full recovery and was soon swinging his shred stick around. He is currently the 44th placed athlete on the Jeep Leaderboard, but he is ranked 11th on the WQS, which gives him a very good chance at requalifying for next year, and also makes him the highest ranked Italian surfer in the world right now.
The incident with Evan Geiselman was one of the most dramatic, and it showcased just how gnarly it is at Pipe and how much water is washing around all the time out there on a good day. South African bodyboarding legend Andre Botha was the first person to get t to Evan, and he clung to him for over one minute before any other help arrived, taking beatings from sets and administering mouth-to-mouth between waves. It was without a doubt that Botha saved a life on that unruly day at Pipe. Evan went on to make a full recovery, but his story was heavy, and the video has had over 1 million views.
So as we get ready for Pipeline and the crowning of a World Champion, lets just keep in mind how gnarly our Championship Tour surfers are, and what they have to do to succeed. When Pipe’s a solid ten-foot and feathering on second, or rolling through, they have to charge if they want to win, and not worry about the possible consequences.
Billabong Pipe Masters runs from 8-20 December.