PUPUKEA, Hawaii — The celebratory temper on the Pipeline surf competitors on Oahu’s North Shore shifted shortly.
Shortly after the conclusion of the 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters, Hayden Rodgers, the under-14 nationwide surf champion of San Clemente, Calif., took off on a 10-foot wave. Then he disappeared.
Lots of of spectators watched as security employees gunned their Jet Skis towards the impression zone, the place the space between the water’s floor and the jagged, lava rock reef under may be as little as a number of toes.
Hayden’s immobile physique bobbed up and down within the sloshing foam. He had collided headfirst with the reef under. He was not respiratory and had no pulse. After two forceful compressions to his chest, he coughed up a torrent of sand and sea. He was moments away from a destiny far worse.
Hayden, now 15, has made a full restoration within the yr since and has returned to browsing on the North Shore of Oahu. However the dangerously shut name — witnessed by the game’s greatest names — despatched a ripple via the area people.
At this time, many at Pipeline — a browsing mecca partially as a result of it’s so perilous — are carrying helmets once they drop in, a considerably grudging acknowledgment that the game may be as harmful as it’s cool.
“The ocean may be dangerous,” Brian Keaulana, one of many retired lifeguards who led the cost in Hayden’s rescue, mentioned. “However it’s all about having the correct data and ability degree and the best gear to scale back all these dangers.”
Sporting helmets pushes in opposition to the cultural tide at Pipeline, the place surfers have all the time aimed to show how expert and classy they’re, not essentially how protected. The group celebrates bravado and prowess a lot that it has a pejorative time period — kook — for individuals who are oblivious, overly cautious or unskilled. No one desires to appear like a toddler out for a motorcycle experience with their mother and pop.
“Clearly, you look cooler if you happen to don’t have a helmet on,” mentioned the skilled surfer Kalani Chapman, 38, of Hawaii. “However I feel individuals are placing that apart these days, which is nice.”
Hayden Rodgers’s accident terrified everybody who noticed it, however the up-and-comers who commonly surf with Hayden, together with his brother Nolan, appeared most shaken. The “groms” — a time period brief for “grommet” that refers to passionate younger surfers — stood by restlessly, their faces ghost-white as they entertained some model of the identical horrible thought: That might have been me.
Luke Tema, then 13, didn’t witness the accident, however listening to about it prompted a dialog with fellow groms Nalu Deodato and Rivan Rock Rosskopf. All of them knew Hayden effectively, and all frequented the identical iconic surf break.
Luke purchased a helmet that evening.
His father, Eric Tema, puzzled if it was mandatory. “I used to be considerably ambivalent about it, as a result of, you recognize, I surfed quite a lot of Pipeline rising up too and by no means used one,” he mentioned.
Like many surfers, he questioned the efficacy of the helmets. May they scoop up water throughout a wipeout, doubtlessly inflicting whiplash? May a helmet compromise a surfer’s total sense of stability?
There’s additionally potential for a false sense of safety that would lead some surfers to take risks beyond their skill degree. Sporting a helmet “provides you extra confidence,” Hayden says, “however you continue to should just be sure you’re not happening unhealthy waves.”
However more and more, it’s not simply the groms who’re taking precautions. Elite grownup surfers are, too. Amongst them is Chapman, who hit his head on the reef in 2017 and had no pulse for 5 minutes. The Pipeline professional now wears a helmet on the break.
Owen Wright, 31 of Australia, sustained a near-fatal brain injury whereas browsing Pipeline and not using a helmet in 2015. He received a prominent pro tour event in 2019 whereas carrying a white helmet, which he referred to as a brand new precautionary measure.
The Pipeline crowd is already seeing the protection advantages of helmets. Whereas browsing over the identical slab of shallow reef at Pipeline on Feb. 14, Mikey O’Shaughnessy, often called “Redd,” plunged headfirst into the onerous floor under. Even with a helmet strapped in place, O’Shaughnessy, 29, was knocked unconscious and spent a number of waves underwater earlier than lifeguards and different surfers saved him. His helmet cracked on either side on the temples, however he had no lasting accidents.
Pipeline, Chapman mentioned, “can present you probably the most lovely expertise of your life, or it might take your life.”
Browsing isn’t the primary excessive sport to distance itself from conventional bravado and embrace new security measures. Twenty years in the past, helmets had been novel — perhaps even seen as kooky — within the snowboarding and snowboarding group. Now unprotected heads are hardly ever seen on slopes in the US.
Nor are helmets the one security machine gaining favor. At deeper, big-wave breaks reminiscent of Maui’s Jaws and Oahu’s Waimea Bay, surfers are more and more carrying inflatable vests that assist them floor shortly after a fall.
At this time the Pipeline group is redefining what’s and isn’t cool. And whereas peer stress could have as soon as discouraged the groms from carrying helmets, the reverse has turn out to be more and more true. Hayden’s mom, Stacey Rodgers, recalled what occurred when a helmetless younger surfer paddled out to Pipeline in December. “He acquired sort of heckled,” she mentioned.
Perhaps not surprisingly, carrying a helmet at Pipeline is already shifting from a practical option to a possibility to showcase fashion. Jake Maki, 16, was once one of many few younger surfers at Pipeline with a signature white helmet. Now, he estimates, there are 5 or 6.
So Maki is on the hunt for a brand new one, drawing inspiration from a veteran surfer’s helmet that has been personalized with orange and yellow flames.
“I simply must discover a option to get extra inventive,” he mentioned, “as a result of I like to face out a little bit, so folks know I’m there and know who I’m. ”