Kohl Christensen hands his three-day old crown to that ol master Don King…
Three days ago, or thereabouts, Kelly Slater announced that he had seen the best photo ever taken at Pipeline.
It was a shot of underground Pipe regular Kohl Christensen, snatched on a grapefruit sunset, by the photographer Daniel Russo, who was seated on a jetski.
“This picture sums up why we surf. And nobody seems to be more in tune with the ocean than Kohl,” said Kelly.
Russo ain’t one to claim thing, but he did say it was his best ever shot at Pipe.
“Perception of one’s experience can vary from person to person. But this image is exactly what happened. To me, this is the exclamation mark of the winter at Pipeline,” said Russo.
Christensen, for his part, was pretty quick to hose off the best-ever photo tag, writing on his IG account, “The best picture is the picture that inspires you the most. Pipeline. Surfer Magazine 1984 shot by Don King. I had this shot on my wall as a kid. I didn’t know Chappy. I was only seven when this went to print but it was so amazingly beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Shocking. The size of the barrel! The lip detonating on the shallow reef, the boils and Chappy’s crazy low ninja tube stance. I never forgot this image and along with countless other wonderful captures, I was inspired to follow my dream of surfing the ‘Pipeline’ one day.”
A roll call of noted surfers were quick to agree.
Mark Healey: “Still my favorite Pipe shot. Something about the lack of distortion in the image makes it feel more like real life out there.”
Shane Dorian: “That is still by far my favourite shot of all time at pipe!! Had the poster on my wall and just stared at it for hundreds of hours in shock.”
Koby Abberton: “Had it on my wall for 15 years!”
And, Kelly Slater, of course.
“Chappy was insane and underrated out there I thought. Always charging from so deep. I played golf behind him and got to chat a couple years back on the Gold Coast. That conversation ultimately allowed me to make a flight I was late for on the Gold Coast but that’s a different story for another time. Glad I got to meet him finally. Was always a legend to me from Performers in early 80’s.”
Chappy, for those who aren’t one hundred years old, is James Jennings, a surfer from Queensland who, despite being the size of an adolescent girl, was a marquee Quiksilver rider alongside Gary “Kong” Elkerton.
Matt Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing (subscribe here) describes the photo and Chappy thus:
“He was better known as a fearless tuberider, utilizing a wide, low, crablike stance, and a photo of him racing through an cathedral-sized tube at Pipeline ran as a two-page spread in A Day in the Life of Hawaii, a 1984 coffee-table photo book. “The usual mugs were riding deep,” SURFER magazine said of Jennings’ performances at Pipeline that year. “But Chappy went deepest, and those who witnessed it talked for weeks in tones of respect and valor.”