Pipeline’s First Round Knockout

SURFING staff photographer Brent Bielmann retraces the first swell of the year at Pipeline, and his near-debilitating incident while shooting.

I have been shooting water photography for about ten years now (since I was sixteen). For the most part, the majority of that ten years has been spent out at Pipeline. I feel very comfortable out there and it’s one of my favorite places to be.

Two days ago, we had our first opening swell at Pipe. It was a little too big on a lot of the sets and washing through. However, there were a handful of great waves in between that guys were getting. I swam in the morning, then hiked to the mountain for a few lineup shots. Afterwards, I was hanging at the Volcom house contemplating if I should swim out. It looked like the swell was peaking and a bit out of control still. I said to Kaimana Henry, “What’s the worst that could happen, I’ll just get some exercise.”

I made my way into the lineup and shot a few empty waves. Then, all of the sudden, an inside north peak connected with a west one and ledged up on the inside. It broke just in front of me. I went to swim under, but it just sucked dry and there wasn’t really anywhere to go. I just wasn’t paying attention, daydreaming, and it caught me off guard. I remember my lower back being slammed against the bottom first and then the back of my helmet. The impact felt like someone slamming the back of my head with a baseball bat. The next thing I remember was being on the surface and taking a huge gasp for air. My mind instantly told me to move my legs, but I couldn’t. Dazed and not sure what exactly had just happened I started stroking for the shore. I don’t think I even realized my camera had been blown off my wrist, I just knew I had to get to the beach.

Slowly I was ably to start moving my toes and gradually my legs. Just before I arrived to the shoreline my camera floated just in front of me – it seemed the current had taken us to the same place. Really sore and out of it, I made my way to the lifeguards. They had some EMT’s on site who examined me and insisted I get in the ambulance. I remember being very stubborn and saying no (my ego was getting the better of me). As the minutes passed I became more and more out of it, not really remembering how I got there or who people were. I do remember Zak Noyle coming there concerned – showing his true character and friendship. He had come in after hearing I had lost my camera. Thanks Zak.

By the time I was in the ambulance I was really confused about everything that was going on and kept thinking I had to be dreaming. I was very fortunate to have nothing broken and no damage to my spinal cord. I had a bad concussion, some possible ligament damage to my knee and ankle (hopefully minor) and hematoma in my lower lumbar/back area. I feel very fortunate as things could have been much worse. I have no doubt in my mind that my helmet saved me from maybe the worst outcome. I could really care less now if people think that a helmet may look uncool or if its feels uncomfortable while shooting. But I can tell you first hand how important they are in big, or small, conditions. – Brent Bielmann

I’ve traveled a lot with Anthony (Walsh). In my opinion, he’s got to be one of the top 10 barrel riders in the world. I don’t know if he’s fearless, or has a couple screws loose, but he definitely doesn’t hold back when it’s slabbing and heavy.
Kalani  (Chapman) is known for sitting out the back at second reef on his big guns. He waits patiently for the waves that will hopefully connect through and unload on first reef. I love it when he busts out the big single fin gun.
This is a right at Ehukai sandbar. It’s the one spot where you want to get out of  before a set comes. If you don’t, a few of these bad boys are likely to send you back to the beach for a walk of shame and another try.
Cristobal de Col and a first reef gem.
When the waves breaks here, don’t be there. Flynn Novak does just that to avoid a thousand tons of water coming down on him.
Alvaro Malpartida makes a run for it.
Backdoor, Koa Rothman ‘s been here before. 
And just like that, he’s back to Pipe. Koa Rothman, and more familiar territory.
The man himself, Derek Ho.
Reef McIntsosh, high and tight.
I used to literally crawl up the mountain to get this angle. Now, there’s a nice easy trail for everyone to enjoy the view. Love seeing the lines funnel into first and second reef, it really gives you a good perspective of the swell direction.
I’ve known Eli (Olsen) for quite a while growing up. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody put in more hard work and time into chasing what they want. Eli is now one of the new generations of the pipe guys amongst John John’s crew.
Bruce Irons doing all he knows how to do out here at pipe – get barreled with ease.

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