One of the most famous photos ever taken: John Severson’s portrait of Greg Noll wearing his custom-made, M Nii, black and white striped, jailhouse surf trunks and leaning against his 11’ 8” elephant gun. This was November of 1964, a time when the inner reef at Pipe was being charged and tamed by the likes of Butch van Artsdalen, John Peck and a dozen or so others. But the outer reefs were still Terra Incognita – a different tiger which caught the eye of Greg Noll and a few others, always looking for new ways to get their kicks, bust their balls, push the limits..
In November of 1964, Greg Noll and Mike Stang were cruising the North Shore, looking for opportunities during a giant swell that seemed to be coming straight from Kaena Point. Along Kam Highway at Pipeline, they stood on the roof of their car to get a view over the unrideable shorebreak, to see what was going on outside.
Noll was there with Mike Stang, and Ricky Grigg was also on hand. The day was captured by cinematographers who would later use the footage in a movie called Blue Surfari. In the Pipeline sequence from Blue Surfari, Stang and Grigg are maybe a little reluctant to have a go, but Noll talks them into having a look.
Down at the water’s edge, Noll stood in his black and white striped trunks next to his monster yellow gun, and John Severson snapped one of the most iconic images in the history of surfing.
But that was the calm before the storm. Noll and Stang got their okole kicked repeatedly, trying to get out through that shorebreak: “We tried twice and went back up on the beach,” Noll was quoted in Talk Story on Surfline. “Ricky Grigg was up on top of his car, you know, telling us when to go. Anyway we paddled out and took lineups from Kaena Point and stuff and zeroed on it. It broke once as we were paddling out.”
These days, surfers on the North Shore use internal combustion engines to hunt down big, inconsistent shifting peaks like that day at Pipeline. That sort of thing wasn’t even imaginable in the mid-1960s, so Da Bull had to catch that thing with his bare hands: “You know in all the pictures it was gloomy and shitty. But what I saw – I don’t know if there was a break in the clouds – but here’s this beautiful, beautiful, beautiful line, you know? And the thing was just glistening like diamonds off the face of this wave. And it wasn’t typical Pipeline, where you’d take the drop, go a little ways and then blow out. These things were long, long, long walls. I guess you’ve seen the wave, have you?”
Noll rides the wave in suicide stance for a long, long way, then starts to windmill his arms as he gets air in the chop. He wipes out and his big, heavy board goes flying in the air like it was nothing. One wave, but a famous one that has earned a permanent place in the visual wallpaper of surf history. That ride of Greg Noll’s was used by Bud Browne in the 1960s. Surfer Magazine used that clip to introduce Greg Noll as a Guest Presenter at the 1997 Surfer Video Awards and Stacy Peralta used that Pipeline wave in Act One of his big-wave riding documentary, Riding Giants.
More obscure than Bud Browne or Stacy Peralta, that mid-60s surf movie Blue Surfari has the entire incident caught on film: Grigg, Stang and Noll polishing their cojones, paddling out, Noll riding the wave. The sequence is cool but look carefully and within the sequence there is a shot of a big, barreling left that looks an awful lot like the mysterioso wave in the opening credits to the original Hawaii Five-0.
Not the current Hawaii Five-0 with Scott Caan (who is a very good surfer by the way). But the original one, with Jack Lord and James MacArthur.
Burl Burlingame wrote about the mystery of Hawaii Five O in the Honolulu Star Bulletin in October of 1996:
The location of the majestic wave that ushers in the show has been debated among local surfers ever since “Five-O” first aired – and will likely continue to be. Since it’s a piece of stock footage, bought from a broker and not filmed by the “Five-O” crew, it could be anywhere. Bishop Museum film historian DeSoto Brown, however, has traced it back to the 1967 surf film “Blue Surf-Ari,” the title of which tumbles out of the same wave exactly the same way the “Hawaii Five-O” did in its premiere a year later: “Blue Surf-Ari was produced and directed by Milton Blair, and some of the footage dates back to 1964,” said Brown. “Although some of the surf footage come from California and Australia, that particular wave is described as being at Banzai Pipeline.”
If that wave was shot while the cinematographers were filming Noll, Grigg and Stang challenging Outer Reef Pipe, then that shot is looking up the beach and it’s either giant Rockpile or maybe some other Outer Reef that’s never been seen again.
Or maybe that image was taken at another time, and edited in to the Outer Reef sequence – which means it’s still a mystery.
An email was sent around asking for opinions, and some of the surfing world’s notables chimed in:
Dr. Ricky Grigg (R.I.P 1937 – 2014) said: “ I think it is the shorebreak at Waimea.”
Kelly Slater said: “There’s clearly some sort of channel between camera and wave. Is Ala Moana out of the question? Based on channel and lighting angle (afternoon light color) that’s my opinion.”
Drew Kampion said: “Sunset flopped, I think.”
Jack Shipley said: “Agree with Drew although I know of no evidence to truly say where – as I recall the crew went island-wide and shot everywhere. Kelly’s thought was of note for Bowls. And since the crew did not decide what shot was used and so many of the executive group has checked out, we may never know.”
Brock Little wrote it off: “Avalanche…. old news”
Kelly Slater read some of the email responses and said: “Sunset afternoon light flipped around makes sense. That is an option. But based on the lighting I doubt it’s Avalanche..Wonder who shot it.”
The mystery of the Hawaii Five-O wave continues, but Greg Noll’s ride at Outside Pipeline is engraved in surfing history. Noll’s wave was waaaay ahead of its time, and an ancestor of all the crazy shit being done in the 21st Century at Teahupoo and Shipsterns and a lot of other places. Noll was ahead of his time, but pretty soon a 6’ 4”, 260-pound man paddling an 11’ 8” into a giant wave would be behind the times. In November of 1964, the Shortboard Revolution was bubbling and by 1967, the resonations of what Greenough, McTavish, Young and Brewer were doing would make it all the way to the North Shore.
Miniguns were radically different from what Noll and Grigg and Stang rode at Outside Pipeline. The boards were shorter, lighter and sleeker and so were the surfers. Jock Sutherland and Gerry Lopez would emerge as the new Pipeline masters, riding those miniguns faster, deeper and tighter as the 1960s came to an end, and a new era began.
Juicy Roots is brought to us by contributing writer Ben Marcus