Could Pipeline Be Back On The World Tour In 2019?

 Photo:  Josh Tabone

There’s favourable news blowing in from the North Shore wireless: a bodyboarding competition at Pipeline is in the works for the upcoming 2018/19 season.

According the godfather, Mike Stewart, a team including Ben Severson and the man himself have acquired a coveted permit to hold a one day event at Pipe between late February and early March, 2019.

It’s a mere crumb of the permit pie, but in the wake of this year’s Pipe comp cancellation, and the APB’s move to distance itself from the 2018 Fronton King, it’s a slice of good news for fans and pro riders alike. So what’ll it look like? Will there be a separate trials event? Will the APB be involved? Will Pipeline finally be brought back into the world tour fold?

Right now, it’s all slightly vague. According to APB CEO, Alex Leon, there will be “some sort of APB involvement” with the upcoming Pipeline competition, and that it will likely be a specialty event. In a mission to get to the bottom of everything, we dialled Stewart – catching him fresh off the back of a “super fun” stint in Tahiti – to talk all things Pipe and what we can expect from the upcoming event.

So, Mike, let’s talk details.
Mike: So there will be one day of competition between February 24th and March 8th next season. The way that we’re going to format it and all that kind of stuff we’ve still got to work out – we’re organising some things as we speak. But the good news is we do have some time there. We’ve put in applications for the next few years, too, so hopefully it’ll be an ongoing thing.

I’d love for the APB to be involved in one way, shape or form. In a perfect world it would be a sanctioned world tour grand slam event.

It seems like there have been endless roadblocks.
Yeah, it’s been real frustrating, you know. The city gives all this priority to the WSL, and the WSL continues to try expand. If they had it their way, they would have every day that was available. And it’s simply not fair to the local community, because it doesn’t represent the usage of the break. Basically, how they proportion the allocation of the permits. So it’s kind of an issue, you know?

What do you imagine the competition will look like?
Well, we have one day of competition which is about eight hours. That means, like, 48 competitors. So we’re going to have to get creative. I’d love to see a number of different disciplines – it’d be great to have a pro junior, a DK, a standup, women’s – I think those were all pretty cool divisions in the years prior. Yeah, it’s tough because we’ve got to try to figure out how to make it all work in not a lot of time. We could potentially do trials outside of Pipe, but it’s frustrating because it’s not Pipe. So you’re competing in something completely different to what you’re going to be riding in, in most cases. That’s why having more than one day would be really helpful.

Will the APB be involved?
Yeah, I’d love for the APB to be involved in one way, shape or form. In a perfect world it would be a sanctioned world tour grand slam event. The venue justifies it. And if we can make that happen somehow and the board agrees then we’ll try to do that. But if we can’t, then we’re going to do whatever else we can do to be involved with the APB. I believe in that organisation.

You could get quite inventive if it’s an invitational.
Yeah, I’m hopeful to have an invitational component to it. That’s been pretty successful in the past. There’s a lot of guys that rip that might not otherwise have an opportunity to surf or be in it.

I think there is a lot more respect for bodyboarding amongst the new crews coming up. I think people are more open-minded now... We’re on more equal playing fields.

Are you seeing changes on the North Shore today compared to, say, five years ago?
Well, the Pipe event started in December, and then it got pushed back to where it is today. During the years where we had dates confirmed for earlier in the season, there would be a bigger influx of bodyboarders. And I think it has been the effort of a lot of people that have surf interests to push us out. That’s been pretty frustrating for me to experience and witness over the years. The fact that the event is later in the season definitely changes the dynamic of who’s surfing when, and who’s coming to the North Shore. But guys still migrate there because it is such a ground zero; and it’s really important for bodyboarders to represent themselves in the lineup and on the waves and to perform at the highest level, so that the surfing world in general has a clear picture of where this particular form of wave-riding is at – which, I believe, is at a super high level. There’s also not the same prejudice as there used to be. I think there is a lot more respect for bodyboarding amongst the new crews coming up. I think people are more open-minded now about bodyboarding – at least this new crew seems to be a lot more accepting about it. We’re on more equal playing fields.

 Ryan Sewell slotted in the kind of Pipe dreams are made of.  Josh Tabone

Ryan Sewell slotted in the kind of Pipe dreams are made of. Josh Tabone

But even though people are more open-minded, the comp periods for bodyboarders are becoming increasingly restricted.
Yeah, it takes a while for it to catch up. Most of the people making the decisions are not the younger riders – they’re the kind of “old school” guys from a different era. So it’s going to take a while for that to catch up. But it always does.

And the history is so rich, too.
Yeah. I mean, there’s a number of reasons why it’s a very significant event beyond the wave. It’s ground central for the North Shore, which has been kind of ground central for the surf industry. It’s built careers and broken them. It really is such an important part of the wave-riding story.

Fronton, when it’s good, is probably a better slab and bodyboarding wave. But overall, Pipe is still the benchmark...

Will you be hanging around the North Shore this season?
Yeah, I’m going to try to get on as many Pipe swells as I can. It takes a pretty good swell for me to travel to Oahu, so hopefully the waves get decent and I’m able to get over there as frequently as possible.

What does the Pipe comp mean to you? Does it still hold ample weight?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I would still put this as, probably, the best bodyboarding wave. You have waves like Fronton, but they’re not surfable in certain conditions – if the tide’s too low or it gets too big. But with Pipe, you can ride it from one foot to, say, 15. So it can be a very competitive wave in a huge range of conditions. Plus, it’s a peak. Yeah, it’s got to be one of the best bodyboarding waves in the world – if not the best bodyboarding wave in the world. I’d say Fronton, when it’s good is probably a better slab and bodyboarding wave. But overall, Pipe is still the benchmark in a lot of other ways. It’s not the most slabby, but it’s definitely the most deadly. And it’s got plenty of consequence and challenge. It really can highlight a rider’s overall capability. Probably more than any other wave.