Life and death at mean old Pipe.
On New Year’s Eve, the Eddie Aikau-invitee Kohl Christenen, as famous for his off-the-grid lifestyle as his big-wave wrangling, was belted by his surfboard while surfing twelve-to-fifteen-foot Pipe.
Fractured skull, a little bleeding on the brain, ear drum maybe blown to the heavens.
Could’ve been worse for forty-two-year old Kohl.
Jamie O’Brien, the carrot-topped vlogger who grew up at Pipe and whose house is directly behind the famous Lopez mansion, saw the whole thing from his upstairs perch.
“He was on this second reef double-up roll-in and he was trimming and the wave before had some turbulence in front of it and he went over the turbulence and then he skipped out.”
Jamie didn’t think much of it.
“Kohl’s a great surfer, he knows what he’s doing. He’s the kinda guy you don’t see until it’s bigger than ten feet.”
Pretty standard sorta wipeout at a wave given to sudden flourishes of unpredictable violence more than most.
“And then he popped up, it took a while, and I was, like, something’s wrong. He was looking the wrong way and the lip of an eight-foot wave was landing on him. His board was sideways and he was right behind the board. From my point of view it looked the lip launched the board straight into his head and knocked him out. I’m not sure if he broke his eardrum first and that was why he was out of it.”
Dressed in baggy sweat shorts, Jamie tightened up the legs, grabbed an eight-foot soft-top and ran down the beach. He thought, ‘Ok, I need to act right now.’
A life or death moment.
“I saw his board tombstoning right when I got to the beach. The jetski was already on him, Makua Rothman was already swimming out. It was super gnarly. I knew there was nothing I could do. He was in good hands. It was lucky help was there faster than I was. I was trying my best.”
The accident gave the former Pipe Master pause.
“It was one of those days. I had to make that decision, should I go surf, is it worth or is it not? It wasn’t worth it. Twelve-to-fifteen-footers, it was as gnarly and as big as Pipe gets. I was talking to Dave Wassel briefly about it and he said that if Kohl wasn’t wearing his float suit, it would’ve been a different scenario. Apparently, that made a big difference in getting him to the beach. He was unconscious and out of it on the beach. He didn’t know what was going on. I heard he wasn’t really doing that well.”
Later in the afternoon, Jamie, who wears his Buell float-suit whenever Pipe is over five-foot, decided to paddle out and, “Yeah, I got some sick ones.”
Until he copped it.
“I hit the reef really bad. I hit my leg, my hip, my elbow, my knee, my arm. The hardest slam on the reef for a couple of years.”
And then he went back for more.
“I went to the lifeguard jetski, checked to see what was going on, went out and ended up getting my best wave.”
Skip through to 10:16 for Kohl’s wipeout.
(Thanks to BeachGrit’s Superworm for the link.)
Jamie’s vlog will drop its version of the day, which may or may not include Kohl’s wipeout (“It’s pretty personal, I haven’t talked to any of the boys about it yet,” says Jamie), on Monday, US time.