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Deadliest Wave

Illustration for article titled Deadliest Wave

The latest long form goodness from SB Nation comes from Joe Spring:

To ride the wave well, a surfer must read the direction of the incoming swell, make a judgment on which way the lip might curl, and commit to a line down the face. That often means dropping under a curling peak that regularly breaks backs. The slightest hesitation or misjudgment can result in severe injury or death.

It is not uncommon. Pipeline is often called the deadliest surf spot on the planet. According to "The Encyclopedia of Surfing," on average a surfer dies here every other year. On a single December day in 1998, 30 surfers were injured.

The reason is thick, powerful waves exploding with lightning quickness over a reef just 3 to 6 feet below the ocean's surface. It's spiked with anvils and pockmarked with holes. The wave often slams surfers down into the reef, sometimes snapping bone, sometimes scalping skulls, sometimes driving them into caves. If a surfer fights toward the surface for air without looking up, he or she might strike an overhanging ledge, pass out and drown. "God must be a surfer," said retired North Shore lifeguard Mark Cunningham, who manned the nearby Ehukai Beach lifeguard tower for 19 years. "On the really big days, on days like yesterday, I'm surprised the ambulance isn't pulling up here five times a day."

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