Finding just one decent day at Pipeline for Quiksilver’s Kaha Nalu Hanana `O Ehukai body surfing contest was a challenge – even guessing the right week was at best a ‘blind shot’. So far, this spring’s been as much a dribble-to-a-fizzle as the past winter months with bumpy swells, on-shore winds (Kona weather in April ?) or just NO swell at all. But Pipe lifeguard/contest director Rick Williams took an educated shot at just one day out of 14 and hit a bulls’ eye.
A week earlier everyone was surfing waist-high beach break a hundred yards away. Then the north Pacific coughed up a freak low near Tokyo, cherry blossoms retreated and we woke up to 8-foot Pipeline with the odd 2nd-reefer capping over. It took less than 2 hours for Rick to call in the 48-man entry list/ judging panel/ a tabulator – oh yeah, and an air horn to start Heat #1.
The two rounds of competition were tallied in the Quikslver “Eddie” format (no one gets knocked out), linked with a mid-day rescue race ‘challenge’ where rescuers had to first sprint the beach, then swim out to the Pipe line-up, grab a ‘victim’ and tow/drag him to shore through the surf and THEN the two still had to race to a finish line, – still coupled together. And twenty minutes later you were back in the water competing in Round #2!
The day was brilliant (the trade winds even hinted at making a return) and now-retired lifeguard Mark Cunningham was on a tear from his first wave on. Listen, you gotta be lucky, pick the right wave and be in the right spot, but for Cunningham it was more a case of gills flopping open, eyes receding in and scales replacing skin. The Transformer just turned 51 and the fish DNA in him isn’t going to dry up anytime soon. He leads the charge of former North Shore lifeguards and with this 2007 win – just one point ahead of active Pipe guard Abe Lerner 2nd, Todd Sells 3rd, Steven Hong 4th and Gavin Kennelly 5th, he’s not swimming away anytime soon. AND If you think the event’s just for the hard-core body whompers, remember harder-core surfers that included Brock Little, Mark Healey and Dave Wassel were already there at dawn, stretching for their heat before the contest had even started. The ocean’s a passion and so is surfing, no matter what it takes to get you to the line-up and with the Kaha Nalu Hanana you have a salute to the lifeguards for all they do, year-in-year-out, keeping everyone as safe as is humanly possible.
This contest is also a chance to get as many surfers as time will allow into the water for a few hours of incredible skill, uncrowded fun and at the end of the day a lot of genuine back-slapping, hand shakes and a whole lot of smiling from a rather intense group that takes their water time just as serious as anyone witha board. – Bernie Baker