Spot Check: Backdoor

Hawaii
© Trevor Moran

Come and meet Pipeline's longer and more radical, but slightly less photogenic, brother.

It is touching that The Backdoor should be so popular when just 21 years ago it was Pipeline's ugly brother. How many archival photos do you see of Lopez or any other Pipe icon going right?

It just didn't happen.

And then in 1992, Kelly Slater won the first of his six Pipeline Masters titles by virtue of his skill at the Backdoor. Not only was Slater bringing the Johnny Boy Gomes-style of grab-rail tuberides to the Pipe, but he proved that perfect scores could be had by turning right at the apex.

The key to successfully catching and negotiating a wave at Backdoor is to recognise it's name. Back. Door. You're not going to find a barrel if you're stealing shoulders. You must sit among the pack and with the steeliest of nerves attempt to take a wave, which it must be said is a rare occurrence considering the North Shore is generally only surfable for less than half of the year, from the biggest and toughest surfers on the planet.

But don't just listen to me, let's ask Jamie O'Brien, the 30-year-old surfer who grew up across the road from Backdoor and who knows the wave better than anyone.

"It's definitely the hardest place to get waves on the North Shore," says Jamie. "Everyone wants that perfect four-to-six-foot right. It's a battle to go right."

As for offering advice on how the average surfer actually might catch a set, Jamie says: "It's a long line. Wake up early and get out before the boys get up."

As in six, seven? When the first rays of light catch the ribs of a sparkling new swell? "When the sun hits the water it's packed! Hundreds of people! Every time! It's crazy!"

If you want a tip from someone a little more like you, visit the Shore before or after the contests, stay real close to Pipe, and watch for those peculiarly empty three-to-four-foot days. They happen.

And it's fun as hell. Until you bounce off the reef. 

Which you will. Every time you come unstuck. Call 'em Hawaiian tattoos. And wear 'em with pride.