Has Anyone Died Surfing Pipeline? (The Deadliest Surf Spot)

When people think about surfing, they often think about Hawaii. These volcanic islands are surrounded by beautiful beaches, reefs, and amazing surf spots! One of those surf spots is called Banzai Pipeline. This is one of the most renowned, feared, and celebrated waves in the world. But why is it feared so much? And did anyone die surfing Pipeline?

Banzai Pipeline is notorious as the deadliest surf spot. It owes this name to the 11 surfers who died here. Even the most experienced surfers can get into trouble here. This reflects the number of names of famous surfers who have died here. The dangerous wave causes many injuries and even casualties.

There are many beautiful and less dangerous surf spots around the world. So why do surfers still take the risk and surf Banzai Pipeline, and what causes this spot to be so dangerous? Keep on reading to find out!

How Many Surfers Have Died at Pipeline?

Phil Edwards was the first person who surfed Banzai Pipeline in 1961. From that day until now, 11 people have died at Banzai Pipeline, as far as we know. Most of these people were good, if not professional, surfers. Besides the 11 deaths, there have been many injuries, some almost fatal.

We might not know about all the casualties that have taken place at Banzai Pipeline. We most definitely can’t keep a record of all the injuries that have happened there.

This is because this spot has been surfed for decennia and was not always as busy as it is nowadays. However, a few deadly incidents have gotten a lot of attention.

The most famous surfers who died at Pipeline:

  • Andy Chuda, a Californian surfer, died on 25 March 1989.
  • Travis Mussleman, a Californian surfer, died on 20 March 2000.
  • Moto Watanabe, a Japanese surfer, died on 19 January 2004.
  • Jon Mozo, Hawaiian (local) surf photographer, died on 9 February 2005.
  • Malik Joyeux, a Tahitian surfer, died on 2 December 2005.
  • Joaquin Velilla, Puerto Rican surfer, died on 12 January 2007.
  • Joshua Nakata, Hawaiian (local) bodyboarder, died on 16 March 2008.
  • Marcus Biju, Hawaiian (local) bodyboarder, died on 18 January 2019.

All of the above knew what they were doing, trained for it, and loved what they were doing. However, nature can be unpredictable, and an accident can take place before you even realize that it’s happening.

(Want to know more interesting facts? Then check out our 47 best surf facts article)

What is The Banzai Pipeline?

While there are many different surf spots around the world, Banzai Pipeline is considered the most deadly. This famous ‘pipe-shaped’ reef break is located in Hawaï and is well known for its huge waves. A mecca for surfers and home to some fantastic surfing competitions.

There are three main types of surf breaks. Knowing this will help you to understand what Banzai Pipeline is.

Beach break:

A beach break is when the waves break onto a beach or a sandbar in front of the beach. The waves on these spots tend to change due to the movement of the sandbar. These breaks are often considered more beginner-friendly.

Point break:

We talk about a point break when the wave breaks on a headland or jetty/pier. The wave will follow the shoreline, creating a long and ‘clean’ wave.

These waves are very predictable since the headland, jetty, or pier won’t change shape. There are point breaks for all skill levels.

Reef break:

It’s called a reef break when the wave breaks on a reef. Reef breaks can be close to the shore or faraway onto the ocean. The surrounding water can be very deep, while the reef is shallow. This creates hollow waves.

A reef break is relatively consistent since the reef doesn’t change shape. However, since it’s often very shallow and sharp, reef breaks tend to cause nasty injuries. Reef breaks are often intermediate to expert level waves.

So what kind of wave is Banzai Pipeline?

Banzai Pipeline is a ‘barrelling’ wave (the wave curls into a tunnel-like shape). Banzai Pipeline is a so-called ‘reef break’ since the incoming swell is formed into surf-able waves because of the reef.

Banzai Pipeline consists of three waves.

On the first reef, the wave turns into an A-frame (a wave that has the peak in the middle, making it look like a capital A).

This creates two surf-able options.

You have the famous ‘left-hander’ (a wave that breaks from left to right, when viewed from the shore) known as Pipeline. And the ‘right-hander’ known as Backdoor Pipeline.

Further onto the ocean, there is also the second and third reef. These generally start working when the swell reaches at least 12 ft (3,6 m).

The third reef especially requires huge waves for it to be surfable.

Where is Banzai Pipeline located?

You can find Banzai Pipeline off Ehukai Beach Park in Pupukea on O’ahu’s North Shore in Hawaii.

The wave is not hard to find since it breaks very close to the beach!

Why is The Banzai Pipeline so Dangerous?

There are many dangers at Banzai Pipeline. Some of these dangers are quite obvious, and some hide under the ocean’s surface. The obvious danger is the height and the shape of the wave. The hidden danger is the razor-sharp, shallow, cavernous reef on which the wave breaks.

You can feel the enormous amount of energy and pure force of the Banzai Pipeline by just standing on the beach and looking at it. It takes a lot of courage to paddle out on your surfboard!

Banzai Pipeline is named ‘The Deadliest Surf spot’ for a couple of reasons.

Down below, you find why the Banzai Pipeline is so dangerous.

The size, shape, and speed of the wave:

Due to its location, Banzai Pipeline often receives a massive swell (especially during winter).

This swell (wind energy transferred into the ocean creating a movement that turns into waves) suddenly hits the shallow reef, which creates the tunnel-shaped wave.

Because of this shape, the takeoff becomes very steep and difficult. It requires the right timing and a lot of skill to get into the wave.

When the takeoff has been successful, you’ll be faced with the fact that the wave is very fast. If you cannot gain enough speed, the wave will catch up with you and wipe you off your board. 

No matter what caused you to crash, this wave consists of an incredible amount of water, which will pound you towards the ocean floor.

The reef:

The reef that gives Banzai Pipeline its amazingly shaped wave also makes it so dangerous to surf the wave. 

The reef beneath the Pipeline is mainly made of lava rock, with a bit of coral. Although this reef is not necessarily very sharp since it’s a so-called ‘flat tabletop reef,’ it still houses some dangers.

There is a considerable risk of hitting the reef since it’s very near to the surface of the ocean. Hitting the reef can knock a surfer unconscious which can result in drowning.

There is also the risk of breaking bones or getting deep wounds.

The reef also consists of multiple caves. So when a surfer is being pushed underwater by the force of the wave, they can possibly get stuck in such a cave and therefore drown.

With certain currents and conditions, the reef accumulates sand. This sand can cause the wave to become unpredictable or even close-out (when the whole wave breaks simultaneously).

The popularity:

Some days you’ll see hundreds of surfers waiting in the line-up to catch a wave and experience Pipeline. Unfortunately, this can cause competitive, aggressive, and dangerous situations.

The difficulty of the drop-in and riding the wave combined with the unforgiving reef make Banzai Pipeline a dangerous place to surf.

(Click here to find out how dangerous surfing is in general)

Banzai Pipeline is the most dangerous surf spot, the birthplace of tube riding, a one-of-a-kind wave, and one of the world’s most filmed and photographed waves. Any surfer that deems itself experienced enough to ride Pipeline wants to test their skill and have a shot at glory. This makes Pipeline so popular.

A few factors ultimately make Pipeline a very popular surf spot.

It’s famous as the deadliest surf spot:

Every surfer wants to get better and reach new heights. Therefore surfing the deadliest surf spot will eventually be the next goal.

The nature of the wave:

Pipeline is being formed by the reef. The reef that forms Pipeline has numerous caves, which release air bubbles when the wave hits them. This creates the perfect wave crest that Pipeline is famous for.

The number one spot to test your tube riding skill truly:

Any surfer charging so-called ‘barrels’ or ‘tubes’ will eventually feel like they have to test their skill at the birthplace of tube riding.

Lots of photographers on the beach:

No wave gets unnoticed at Banzai Pipeline. You might find your fame and glory by performing well at Banzai Pipeline.

The surf contests:

Pipe Masters is one of the surf contests at Banzai Pipeline. These surf contests are famous worldwide, and it’s one of the reasons why most people, surfers, and non-surfers, know about the Banzai Pipeline.

Conclusion

Banzai Pipeline is both very popular and very dangerous. Many surfers make their way to Hawaï to surf this iconic wave and push themselves to the limit.

This sometimes results in casualties, giving Banzai Pipeline its reputation as the deadliest surf spot.

Marcus Campbell

Surfing is the biggest passion in my life. Transferring my knowledge about surfing to others is what I love doing most! I do this through my own surf school and through my articles on this website. This is how I hope to get everyone excited about this amazing sport!
Published: 
December 13, 2021
Published: December 13, 2021