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Ron Mizutani

Pipeline At Its Best In Years

Conditions were just about perfect at Banzai Pipeline for the Pipeline Masters, wave upon wave. Photo courtesy Terry Lilley and Pamela Whitman

Conditions were just about perfect at Banzai Pipeline for the Pipeline Masters, wave upon wave. Photo courtesy Terry Lilley and Pamela Whitman

We often hear about athletes rising to an occasion. It happens in every sport: elite stars performing at a level that’s either expected or unexpected, leaving spectators in awe, with high praise and cheers.

But rising to an occasion isn’t reserved for only athletes, or for that matter, humans. Mother Nature has an uncanny ability to do so as well.

It happens every so often at Banzai Pipeline.

For some reason, when all eyes are on the famous reef break on Oahu’s North Shore, Pipeline has a tendency to “turn on.” And it was definitely at its best in decades for the finale of the Pipe Masters.

“What an amazing day of surfing at Pipeline,” says veteran photographer and ocean researcher Terry Lilley of Kauai. “Big, perfect waves and the best surfers in the world! Pipeline put on quite a show!”

Lilley says what was amazing about that epic day is conditions were far from ideal the day before or even that morning.

“The waves weren’t lining up, the wind wasn’t very good and the conditions were poor,” he says. “It just materialized during the contest to be the best Pipeline I’ve seen in 40 years of surfing. And then, by evening, the conditions deteriorated and the next day the conditions were terrible!”

But before that happened, 41-year-old Kelly Slater made surfing history by beating 21-year-old John John Florence of Haleiwa in an epic final. A huge crowd on the beach watched Slater surf his way to his seventh Pipeline Masters title, and Mick Fanning win his third ASP world title.

“I don’t know how things can get any better,” says an excited Lilley. “You had one of the oldest guys on the professional tour going up against one of the youngest, at a very high level of competition and at an extremely challenging break. There’s no other sport or athletic event that can have that age difference and still have two guys going at it like that. It was just the most amazing surf performance I’ve ever seen.”

And while the final was every surf fan’s dream, it was every ocean photographer’s, as well. The ideal conditions made for some of the best images taken at Pipeline in many years.

“The light winds kept the (ocean) spray from spreading everywhere and from building up, so Pamela Whitman and I were able to get some amazingly clear shots,” says Lilley, who travels with Whitman across Hawaii studying coral reefs. “We’ve been studying the reefs at Pipeline and know the structures of each one, and to watch these guys read the waves, knowing what’s below them, it was magical.”

Lilley has been monitoring and documenting the many changes Hawaii’s reef and coral have experienced over the past several years. And while rising sea levels and pollution certainly have taken their toll at Pipeline, he says the break has not lost its capacity for high energy and powerful storms.

The final day of the 2013 Pipeline Masters emphatically confirmed that … again.

“I’ve surfed at many surf spots and there’s nowhere else where you can have world-class surfing so close to the beach,” says Lilley of Pipeline’s fan-friendly environment. “It is the most unique surf spot on this planet, and certainly one of the most photographed breaks as well. It was awesome to see her in rare form in front of such a huge audience. Everyone walked away with great pictures and great memories.”

Banzai Pipeline delivered once again. But would you expect anything less?

After all, it’s what great performers do.

rkmizutani@gmail.com

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