In the ‘now you see him, now you don’t’ that is tube riding, there was mostly ‘now you don’t.’ - Jamie Brisick
This is Pipeline as viewed from the Backdoor side. If you were here in the late ‘60s, you might have seen a towheaded Bunker Spreckels pull into one of these tubes. Bunker was among the first to go right at what at the time was known vaguely as “Pipeline rights.” There are not many breaks that carry this odd distinction: You go left, it’s “Pipeline.” You go right and it’s “Backdoor.”
A lot has happened at Backdoor. In the ‘70s, Mike Hynson, Herbie Fletcher, Billy Hamilton, Shaun Tomson, Mark Richards, and Rabbit Bartholomew spent a lot of time exploring these barrels.
In the ‘80s, on bright, sunny mornings much like this one, Hawaiians Dane Kealoha, Johnny Boy Gomes, and Perry Dane held court. They took off super deep; planted their rear arm in the face or pumped urgently, pending wave; and disappeared for ridiculously long stretches. Tom Curren was also a big player. His wave whispering translated magnificently to these screaming rights.
Kelly Slater and Sunny Garcia dominated ‘90s Backdoor. If you were to replay their rides through this decade, you’d find that about 80-plus percent of them took place behind the curtain. In the ‘now you see him, now you don’t’ that is tube riding, there was mostly ‘now you don’t.’
The ‘00s Backdoor saw many bright lights, but most luminous would have to be Kelly Slater and Andy Irons. Their bouts out here—in the Pipe Masters and in impromptu ‘expression sessions’—did much to push the outer limits of barrel riding.
I shot this photo in 2003. This was in the early, early morning, before the pack had jumped on it. There was a lot at stake that winter. At the height of their epic rivalry, Kelly Slater and Andy Irons would be duking it out in the Pipeline Masters to decide the world title. This was the proverbial calm before the storm. About an hour later, six-time world champ Slater and reigning world champ Irons paddled out, and proceeded to trade long, throaty barrels. There was a lot of pumping and streaking, and plenty of just standing there, proud and casual, in the sheer majesty of it all. Surf competition, the idea of beating one’s opponent, is a myopic, all-consuming endeavor. But sometimes the wave comes in and upstages all of that.
---Jamie Brisick is a writer, photographer, and director. He surfed on the ASP world tour from 1986 to 1991. He has since documented surf culture extensively. His books include Becoming Westerly: Surf Champion Peter Drouyn’s Transformation into Westerly Windina, Roman & Williams: Things We Made, We Approach Our Martinis With Such High Expectations, Have Board, Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and Snow, and The Eighties at Echo Beach. His writings and photographs have appeared in The Surfer’s Journal, The New York Times, and The Guardian. He was the editor of Surfing magazine from 1998-2000, and is presently the global editor of Huck. In 2008 he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship. He lives in Los Angeles. For more of his work check out jamiebrisick.com & @jamiebrisick