Fallback

Chasing Waves & Changing Tides on Oahu's Legendary North Shore

A slice of life at the legendary Vans Pipe Masters where a glimpse at surfing's future shows community building remains in focus

Chasing Waves & Changing Tides on Oahu's Legendary North Shore

Author

Graham Hiemstra

Photographer

Graham Hiemstra, Maddie Hayes

Camera

Fuji GA 645, Pentax k1000, Olympus Stylus

Film

Portra 400, Portra 160

Ivan Florence photographed by Maddie Hayes

https://www.fieldmag.com/articles/vans-pipe-masters-photos-oahu-north-shore

Each winter the world’s best surfers turn the North Shore of Oahu into a spectacle. Or rather, Kanaloa, the Hawaiian god of the sea does—the surfers just show up to make the most of it. Double overhead waves crash on razor sharp reef laying just a few feet below the surface, creating beautiful and fierce barrels closely guarded by locals and coveted by everyone else. Pipeline is at the center of it all, the deadliest wave on Earth. Timed perfectly with this natural phenomenon is the Vans Pipe Masters, a legendary surf contest held each December for 50 years and counting.

For the 2022 Vans Pipe Masters, I was lucky enough to be invited to join a handful of leading surf media on the remote Hawaiian island for eight days of wave chasing and community building.

On the morning of 8 December, a beautiful opening ceremony hosted by organizations Nā Kama Kai and The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and led by Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu kicked off the official two-week contest window. Excitement was high; unfortunately the waves were anything but.

Up and down the North Shore, Surfline forecasts read “flat” or “poor” at best. And remained this way for the entirety of my time on Oahu. Oddly, it was within this lack of worthwhile swell that I found opportunity—to meet the people pushing surf culture forward, in a more inclusive and diverse direction.


Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-8

Waiting for Waves

Minor swell lingered at the many waves adjacent to Pipeline at Ehukai Beach Park, but I knew better than to paddle out—even at three feet, a notoriously powerful rip tide and unforgiving reef remain. So, like hundreds of other tourists, I snapped a few photos and watched the endless parade of party waves. Highlights included seeing action sports legend and contest emcee Selema Masekela and Rockaway’s own Paul Godette each score a few peelers.

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-9
Selema Masakela on a small North Shore peeler

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-5
The Vans surf team & Nā Kama Kai’s double-hull sailing canoe

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-6
Planter building at Waianae community beach cleanup

A better use of my time came on day two when Vans hosted a community beach cleanup with environmental nonprofits Nā Kama Kai and Sustainable Coastlines at Waianae on the island's west side. With over a dozen Vans surf team riders in attendance including Dane Reynolds, Mikey February, Tosh Tudor, Karina Rozunko, Puamakamae DeSoto, Holly Wawn, and others, together with journalists, retailers, and local volunteers, we cleared over 50 pounds of debris from the sand and built new planter boxes. Seeing the whole Vans team paddle out in Nā Kama Kai’s beautifully restored 30-foot, double-hull Hawaiian sailing canoe was a bonus treat.

A Bonzai Pipeline Skate Jam the following day provided plenty of oohs and awws for the surf deprived North Shore crowd.

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-18
Vans skateboarding legend Christian Hosoi

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-19
Pro surfer & North Shore local Pua DeSoto catches a ride post Skate Jam


Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-2

Changing Tides

Word was I wasn’t the only New Yorker on the island. Texts were sent, mutual friends identified, and a generous invite was extended to join an impromptu queer surf meet-up hosted by Benny’s Club, the Rockaway Beach-based queer surf collective, and Laru Beya, a community-focused nonprofit empowering BIPOC surfers in Far Rockaway.

The open atmosphere encouraged quick communion among the dozen or so attendees, which included local surfers who drove from Honolulu, friends from New York and Los Angeles who came for Pipe Masters, two-time WSL World Champion Tyler Wright, and Gabriella Angotti-Jones, a photographer and author of a new book on Black women and non-binary surfers titled “I Just Wanna Surf”. I latched onto this crew for the remainder of my stay. (Shout-out to Momo & Catherine for kindly letting me crash your surf sessions, evening events, and breakfasts throughout.)

As it turns out, Field Mag wasn’t the only indie publisher on the island, either, thanks to a special effort to support influential, independent media at this year’s event. Daybreak was in town reporting for the landlocked and lake-bound surf enthusiasts of the upper Midwest. Seamaven Magazine, Sea Together, and Withitgirl each took to the North Shore representing three distinct perspectives on the future of women/womxn’s surf media.

The founders, photographers, and videographers from each were omnipresent, working in the water and on land, together and independently, harder than anyone else. The volume and caliber of content produced by these outlets was and remains impressive. Browse the above links for a more comprehensive review of the actual surf event and its related personalities and leading athletes.

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-3
Momo Otani & Catherine Mao of Benny's Club & Lara Bayu surf collectives

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-4
Photographer Gabriella Angotti-Jones

The influence and prevalence of powerful women at this year’s Pipe Masters wasn’t a coincidence, but rather a sign of shifting dynamics among a sport historically dominated by men. As insane as it sounds, the world famous Pipe Masters contest only just introduced a women’s division in late 2021, and the 2022 contest would mark the first time women would paddle out for live heats, same as the men have done for 50 years. Though the 2002 Hollywood movie Blue Crush would tell the inspired story of women surfers competing at Pipeline, it would take reality 20 years to catch up.

Pay parity at this year’s Vans Pipe Masters has also helped introduce some equity to the contest ($420,000 was on the line, btw), as has the effort to ensure half of the 60 invited surfers are Hawaii-based. And just down the road at Wiamea Bay The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational has followed suit for the 2023 contest, inviting a handful of women surfers for the first time.

Of course, entrenched misogyny, systemic barriers, and discrimination remain in the world of professional surfing and surf culture in general, though the talent and grit of a new generation of women like North Shore locals Moana Jones Wong, Carissa More, and Puamakamae DeSoto—alongside Black surfers like South African surfer Mikey February—are helping change the look of the lineup.

(For a quick primer on the history of women surfers at Pipeline check out this visual guide by Seamaven and the “Women of Pipeline” short film by Vans surfing.)

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-10
Waimea Bay

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-7


Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-12
Photography by Maddie Hayes

The 2022 Vans Pipe Masters Is On, At Last

After eight days of waiting, the 2022 Vans Pipe Masters got underway on Friday 16 December—just hours after I reluctantly returned to the mainland. Catching a glimpse of Pipeline’s sheer size and force when it turned on late one evening before departing was impressive, but no doubt being there in person to see such a forceful wave really pumping would have been incredible. Fortunately, local photographer and Field Mag photo contest finalist Maddie Hayes was on hand to document, while Vans’ impressive live streaming efforts provided the next best thing for the rest of us elsewhere around the world.

In the end, New York's own Balaram Stack and Australian Molly Picklum earned the titles of 2022 Masters of Pipeline for the men’s and women’s categories, respectively. Check out the Vans Pipe Masters website for a full results breakdown and impressive contest recap vids.

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-15
Moana Jones Wong & Molly Picklum | Photo by Maddie Hayes

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-13
Kala Grace | Photo by Maddie Hayes

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-25
Sophie Bell | Photo by Maddie Hayes

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-14
Riaru Ito | Photo by Maddie Hayes

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-24

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-11


Here & There In Paradise

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-1

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-20

What a beautiful place to wander. Mahalo Hawaii.

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-22

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-21

Hawaii-Vans-Pipe-Masters-23

Fallback
Related articles
"Island Time" by Vivian Kim Reveals the Raw Natural Beauty of Kaua'i
Vivian Kim's New Photo Book Captures Youth Culture & Island Living on Kaua'i

Comprised of 230+ film photographs, this limited edition hardcover offers a unique snapshot of Hawaii's Garden Isle and the people that call it home

Kodak Gold 120 Film Photo Essay: Exploring Maui by Van
Explore Stunning Maui Landscapes on All New Kodak Gold 120 Film

On Hawaii's second-largest island, two film photographers hit the road in a rented 1998 Dodge camper van to document a truly unique environment

A Year of Wandering in Unique Light, on Medium Format Film
21 Medium Format Photos Artfully Document a Year of Wandering

Hyper realistic plant portraits, surreal landscapes, and intimate encounters draw a visual line through time and place

Seeking the Spirits and Memories of Hawaii on Medium Format Film
16 Surreal Photographs Seek to Capture the Spirit of Hawaii

Taking a literal and figurative macro lens to rare landscapes to summon the memories held within

How a Week in Kona Taught me the Raw Truth of IRONMAN
How I Came to Understand the Insanity of IRONMAN Triathlons

A first-timer’s raw experience as a spectator of the world’s biggest triathlon and what it taught him

IRONMAN World Championship Behind the Scenes
Photo Essay: Inside the IRONMAN World Championship

A raw and real look at the ultra-triathlon proving ground on Hawaii’s Big Island

More articles
Fallback
Fallback
Chasing Waves & Changing Tides on Oahu's Legendary North Shore

Gallery Mode

Photographer

Graham Hiemstra, Maddie Hayes

Camera

Fuji GA 645, Pentax k1000, Olympus Stylus

Film

Portra 400, Portra 160

Back to article
Fallback
☮️ Welcome to Field Mag

Get the best new gear, dreamy cabins, and epic adventure photography delivered to your inbox each week with Field Mag newsletters

Click Here to Subscribe
☮️  Welcome to Field Mag