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|| News Item: Posted 2002-01-23

December In Hawaii:
Covering the Pipeline Masters

By Amy Kawadler, Canon USA

As I begin to write my first article for the SportsShooter on the lanai of the Turtle Bay Hilton on the North shore of Oahu, I take a deep breath. I smell the plumeria that grows along the ledge, the salty spray of the ocean below, and the grilled fish on the outdoor BBQ and you ask, "What does this have to do with SportsShooter?" Here it is: I am covering the longest running surfing tournament in the United States, the XBOX Pipeline Masters.

I have come to Hawaii for the past three years to work the "Super Bowl of the Surf industry" with extensive Canon Professional Services. Yeah, yeah, I know what your thinking tough assignment. December in Hawaii, beach boys, bikinis, sunshine and balmy trade winds.

Photo by
Well, for the past three years that has been true but not this week. For the past nine days there has been nothing but clouds, rain, winds up to 40 knots and NO surf. Do you know what this means for a community that their sole basis of existence is for surf?

There are long lines at the converted lunch vans the chatchky shops are filled with dazed tourists buying up every last bobbing hula doll and locals rambling through the wet streets suffering their own version of cabin fever. Of course the stupid haoli (mainlander) makes the best of it, swimming in the hotel pools while gale force winds and pounding rain water down their umbrella drinks. We waited patiently, for Mother Nature to change her mind and deliver the right ingredients.

The amount of meteorology and marine knowledge required to accurately predict this event is astonishing, such as deep-water buoy readings and satellite imaging. Finally, after nearing the end of the ten-day waiting period, the official allotment given to the Pipeline Masters, the wind and rain went away and the swell, a 2000-mile traveler, began to show its face.

The 2001 Pipeline Masters, an invitational event eventually won by Kauai's Bruce Irons, strives to attract the best big-wave tube riders from around the globe. Pipeline is perhaps the world's steepest, fastest and most notorious wave.

After traveling thousands of miles, monster waves build on Pipeline's jagged reef, a mere six feet under water, and explode with unrelenting force.

All these conditions make Banzai Pipeline the most perfect tube ride in the world. Couple this with the fact the wave breaks as close as 100 feet from shore also makes it one of the most photographed waves in the world.

Surfing Pipeline on a big day will give even the most polished professional the butterflies and day one of the contest was no different. As the first heat began, Michael Ho, a North Shore pioneer, was sucked over the falls, hit the reef and separated his shoulder, a dramatic beginning that set the tone for the remaining heats.

As the heats progressed, the photographers used a variety of coverage angles, the classic tight barrel shot being the most popular. The standard surf photographer equipment are as follows; a few fast durable SLR bodies with power boosters, mostly Canon EOS 3 and 1Vs, 600mm lenses, waterproof lens covers, for moisture and spray (Hey I'm a Canon rep, what do you think I'd say?).

Bogen and Gitzo tripods seemed to be the norm, and I found using the sand shoes to attach to the legs looked silly but very functional at this event (no sand slippage, better balance) and hanging bumbag for all the essentials.

The tide is moving so fast a rogue wave has taken out many a beach bag, equipment and people for that matter. There are no areas to keep the gear; the press trailer is to get credentials (never used till the last day to shoot the winner on stage) and some bottled water. One needs to carry everything with them and keep nothing behind for two reasons; it's a long walk to the car and theft.

Yes, petty theft is as commonplace as the palm trees. All the usual accoutrements for an outdoor shoot; sunscreen, zip lock bags, bungee cords, Leatherman, lens cloth, rain poncho and towels because most important out here keeping your gear dry is paramount.

Surf photographers are divided into two groups; those who shoot from land only and those who shoot from land and water. All photographers who shoot in the water use water housings for their equipment. These housings are a substantial investment for the photographer but are necessary for the job. Their rigs are similar to dive housings but with ports that house from 15mm to 100 - 400mm glass.

Water photographers shoot from the relative safety of the channel, a calm body of water adjacent to breaking waves. During contests there are only 1-3 shooters in the water each assigned a particular time slot. The water patrols are on wave runners ready to rescue surfers or photographers.

The Pipeline Masters is unlike anything I have ever experienced in the sports world, for which I have great respect. Yes, the sand and ocean are enticing locales to work but they also have all the ingredients for the most perfect sports photography environment I have experienced.

Now, back to my umbrella drink.

If you would like to read more about this exciting sport log on to Aloha!!!

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