Published in Mike Latronic's Free Surf Magazine, V3#4.
Soul. That's the word that comes to mind when describing the Patagonia presents 2006 Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic. The event, which shared the same waiting period as the Monster Energy Pro ASP WQS contest, went off on February 1, 2006 in good to excellent 4-6'+ surf.
I had the distinct honor of participating in this event, which has roots that go way back to 1971. This writer went through the same angst waiting for the contest to go, and the same joy in relishing Pipeline with only five others (though my stay in the contest was very short-lived). But once we got going it was all stoke, especially since smooth, light offshore conditions and solid waves prevailed throughout the day.
Bodysurfing is a unique waveriding discipline in that there really isn't any industry behind it, per se. It is for the most part a laid-back activity enjoyed by enthusiasts the world over. Bodysurfing has been gaining a bit more visibility in recent years though, with many pro WCT surfers, including Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, and Tom Curren, doing it and even participating in the event.
But this year, the contest got even greater notoriety because of three British bodysurfers who declared (literally via press release to the BBC) their intentions to compete. This created a bit of a circus environment and inadvertently stirred some controversy over entry requirements.
Jokingly, the trio stated that their training regimen included, “Eating Hawaiian pizzas, switching to low-tar cigarettes and putting a dash of lemonade in their pints [of beer]. But when they arrived and saw the intensity of the surf, two of the three promptly withdrew from the event. To his credit, the last bloke Andrew Whitworth gamely went out and caught a few, but still got last in his heat.
A couple of wahine also participated in the event, with Bay Area's Judith Sheridan advancing one round. Sheridan charges big Ocean Beach in San Fran, and has been known to even tackle Mavericks!
The second biggest surprise of the event was the "early” ousting of 10-time event winner Mike Stewart (yes, the champion bodyboarder). Stewart rode brilliantly in his quarters, throwing some of his patented bodysurfing el rollos, but was bested by the competition and by lack of waves in Semi 2.
So the final included many veterans, including defending champion Todd Sells, four-time event champion Mark Cunningham, and two-time finalist Steve Kapela. Joining them were Californians Jeff Johnson and Aaron Ungerleider, along with Brazilian Rodrigo Bruno (Ungerleider and Bruno made their way up all the way from the trials).
To give the finalists a bit of time to rest, there was an expression session held right after the semis, where all eliminated competitors were allowed out for a free surf for 30 minutes. It was all smiles as about three-dozen heads bobbed in the lineup, all of them stoked on having the waves to themselves, if for just for a little while. All the while, the Hawaiian Water Patrol crew had to keep hungry surfers at bay and out of the lineup.
During the final, I only had a limited view of what was transpiring (was shooting from the lineup). However, it was super exciting from my vantage point. Sells looked strong, catching some big ones early on. Cunningham styled gracefully as usual. And Kapela powered through a few medium-sized barrels.
With only 30 seconds to go, Kapela found and made a sweet barrel. As announcer Judah Oshner counted down the remaining seconds, Kapela worked it to shore as the crowd literally erupted in cheer. Must've gone all the way in I thought.
During the announcement of the results, it eventually came down to Sells and Kapela. When the Kapela was announced as the winner, I think the person most surprised with the result was Steve himself. After placing third in both 2002 and 2004, Kapela fulfilled a lifelong dream and was crowned the 2006 Pipeline Bodysurfing champion.
His last wave was obviously pivotal to his win, so I asked Steve to describe that last ride: "Took off on a smaller, inside wave, figuring I gotta get something [before the end of the heat]. Made the turn, streaked across, got the barrel. I thought that was going to be it, but I kept traveling. Next thing you know, another wave came in from the other direction, so I did a nice roundhouse/off-the-lip off that section. Rode it to the beach and as the announcer counts down, 5-4-3-2-1, I hit the sand. That's what they said, anyway. Theatrics!”
Big mahalo to Patagonia, Viper Fins, and the other sponsors for making this event happen. Also, thanks to all the competitors for participating—believe me, they make bodysurfing look way easier than it is. Finally, a big thanks goes out to Alan Lennard for his tireless efforts as event coordinator.
In the end, it was all about bodysurfers gathering together and enjoying the common bond of their unique pastime. Afterwards, some of the boys from the Hawaii State Bodysurfing Association and Kino Hawaii even had a pa'ina lu'au to celebrate the safe completion of the event, and of course to celebrate Kapela's victory. Like I said, it was all about soul.