Hawaiian pipeline gives US surfing star advantage at Olympics

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY
Carissa Moore, five-time World Surf League champion, believes Pipeline is the closest wave to what she will face at the Olympics.

NEW YORK — Surfers at the Paris Olympic won’t be surfing in France. They will compete off the coast of a village in Tahiti called Teahupo’o.

It’s a place known for some of the world’s heaviest waves, so heavy that the name of the village loosely translates to “Place of Skulls.” 

Carissa Moore is one surfer who already has qualified with a distinct advantage. She lives an island away on Hawaii’s famous Pipeline wave. 

The Pipeline, formally known as the Banzai Pipeline, is a wave caused by the shallows of three reefs located off the coast of Ehukai Beach Park on O’ahu. The wave often is higher than 12 feet, can reach as high as 20 feet and plays host to some of the most intense surfing competitions in the world. 

Moore, a 31-year-old Honolulu native and five-time World Surf League champion, believes Pipeline is the closest wave to what she will face at the Olympics. She has spent the last several months taking advantage of the famous wave in her home state. 

“The closest wave to the Olympic venue in Tahiti is Pipeline, so I just finished spending a few months practicing at that spot, so hopefully it will help me a little bit,” Moore said this week at the U.S. Olympics Media Summit.

Similar waves

The Teahupo’o waves are often around 10 feet high but can reach as high as 23 feet, not that  much bigger than Pipeline. 

It has taken years of experience for Moore to become comfortable with the wave. When she began her surfing career at 17, she didn’t even fathom the idea of competing on a similar wave. 

“When I first started competing on the championship tour in 2010 that was not even something on my radar,” Moore said. “I was the furthest thing away from that wave because it’s really scary, people get super hurt … so why take that risk?”

Moore said it wasn’t until five years ago that she started surfing on Pipeline. She earned her first and only win at Pipeline at the 2023 Billabong Pipeline Masters. 

But the wave has been a source of both triumph and defeat for Moore. 

In February, a loss at Pipeline marked the end of her Championship Tour career. After Moore finished last with a score of 2.37 at the Lexus Pipe Pro — the first leg of the 2024 World Surf League’s 2024 Championship Tour. 

Now, the Paris Olympics will mark her final competitive surfing appearance, as she will look to channel the motivation and experience from her connection to Pipeline and Hawaii as a whole into a winning performance in Tahiti. 

At the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 – the first Olympics to feature surfing as a sport – Moore won gold in shortboard and felt humbled by the response of the Hawaii locals who thanked her when she returned.

Not done yet

Now, she wants to win one more gold medal for the people of her home state

“I am a proud American, but I am an even prouder Hawaiian,” Moore said. “There’s something about growing up in the islands and being part of such a tight community, that you really feel like you are doing this for everyone.

“When I got back from the Olympics last time, I was just blown away by how I was received by my neighbors,” Moore said. “The grocery store lady, my mail lady Lola and everybody really welcomed with that warmth and love.

“I really wouldn’t be who I am today without all those hands and hearts.”