A Tribute To The Tube

A Photographic, Illustrated, And Written Salute To The Heart Of The Surfing Experience

Surfers have an uncontrollable attraction to the barrel, like pilgrims drawn to Mecca. It grabs hold of us like nothing else, refusing to let go and burrowing deeper and deeper into our desires, even as we get older and more jaded. There’ve been all sorts of theories about this fascination, everything from the idea that traveling through a tube somehow fulfills a subconscious psychological need to revisit our own births to the idea that only those who have experienced a good tube join some sort of elitist secret society oceanic club. And what about the notion behind this quote from Dr. Timothy Leary, the father of the 60s counterculture movement?
“The act of the ride was the epitome of ‘be here now,’ and the tube ride is the most acute form of that. Which is: your future is right ahead of you, the past is exploding behind you, your wake is disappearing, your footprints are washed from the sand. It’s a non-productive, non-depletive act that’s done purely for the value of the dance itself. And that is the destiny of man.”
Whether it’s a good or bad thing having the king of acid as a proponent of tube riding is up for debate, but it does suggest the wide range of ways people express this infatuation with the barrel. It can inspire something as deep (and acid-fueled) as philosophic theory or something as primal as someone throwing their hands skyward in an irrepressible claim after exiting a good tube.
Another indication of tube riding’s import and complexity are the apparent contradictions that it invokes, like a celebrated piece of art or writing. While it’s the most pleasurable thing one can experience on a surfboard, it can also be the most painful. Paddling into any wave large enough to fit someone inside it is scary enough, but of course, to exit a tube you’ve got to get in there first, and therein lies the rub. You’ve got to throw yourself right into the center of a detonating wave, with a tempting reward dangling just outside the vestibule of the pitching lip. The bigger and heavier the wave, the greater the risk … and the reward. You could get the barrel-or beating-of your life.
As well, tube riding looks like the easiest thing in the world to do-you just have to go straight, right? In fact, it’s the most challenging maneuver (if it can be called a maneuver) in surfing, requiring a ridiculous amount of practice, commitment, wave knowledge, and sometimes just plain balls. In fact, the odds are good that even the most gifted of surfers won’t get a decent pit until they’ve been surfing voraciously for a minimum of three years. It’s the compensation for years of pulling into closeouts, getting mangled on steep drops, clipped in the head and driven into the bottom by the lip, and breaking your favorite boards. Is it all worth it? It would be too cruel a thing not to be.
So with all that in mind we raise our glasses to the pinnacle of the surfing experience, the tube.


Action Spread Captions

The Pig Dog, Andy Irons
The pig dog takes the cake for the best-named tube stance, and it happens to be among the most functional, too. The name relates back to Australian slang for pit bulls, which were often used for their ferociousness in hunting wild boars. The surf version references the dog’s compact body language: a tightly packed backside tuck, back knee down, with the surfer’s outside hand firmly planted on the rail.
Here are a few tips from the man himself, Andy Irons-one of the best backside tube riders on the planet: “When you first start to pull in backside, it helps to put your weight on your front foot and really lean forward and always lean toward the opening of the barrel. A lot of people close their eyes in the tube, and if you do that, you’ll never make it out of one. You have to be aware and know where you’re going, so you can look for that little exit. You also need to sqre your shoulders to the opening, that’s probably the most important aspect of pig-dogging. That and dragging ass.”

Backside No-Hands, Kelly Slater
The backside no-hands approach is a modern counterpoint to frontside surfing’s classic ode to coolness in the soul arch. Of course, if only a small percentage of surfers get tubed regularly, an equally small percentage of tube riders will ever throw down a backside no-hands barrel. Why? Frontside, you can fit into the tiniest of barrels by crouching and leaning close to the arc of the face, out of the way of the falling lip. But backside, your waist bends away from the face, and it’s much harder to tuck close in. It takes a big, wide barrel to pull off a no-hands approach, which is why you mostly see it at Teaupo’o and Pipe, and not too many people want a piece of those places backside.

Soul Arch, Rob Machado
To the untrained eye, most tube riding looks the same. But when you dig a little deeper, you start to see that all sorts of styles emerge. Some are subtle artistic touches, like a gentle hand drag, while something like a low, tight tuck is overt and purely functional. But of them all, it’s hard to trump the soul arch for a making a cool-ass style statement. It’s confident, but not flippant like an arms-raised claim. It makes it all look so easy, even though the rider is in the middle of a vicious, funneling beast. How many gigantic barrels do you have to get before you can pull off a convincingly casual soul arch? Only a few have the answer. Rob Machado.

High Line, Laurie Towner
Isn’t this just a frontside barrel?, you might be thinking. On the most basic level, yes-in the same way a Lamborghini is just a car. Which is to say, it’s much more complicated than that. You can tell by Laurie’s extended body positioning that he’s pumping inside the barrel, taking the high line, which means two things: First, that the barrel is so vast that it even allows the rider the space to maneuver up and down on the face. Second, that it’s moving so fast that it requires the extra speed of pumping to make it out. This is light years beyond your average “drop and drive” strategy.


The Tube Ride Is Dead; Long Live The Tube
By Derek Rielly

Once, the tube ride was as unfathomable as Hawkings’ flexiverse cosmos. Did time stand still inside a wave, did time go backward, did a rider’s hearing mysteriously vanish once the curl of a wave peeled over his head? Could a surfer theoretically stay young by getting tubed often? And what about foam balls and shockwaves and waves that spat inward-fact or fantasy?
The Mystery Of The Tube, particularly in its slow-motion form on a cinema screen, was an indulgence that worked because it fed careers, gave surf magazines something vaguely metaphysical to pontificate about (besides the enlightening nature of Mary Jane) and created heroes out of otherwise unremarkable human beings. Why? Because they’d been there, man!
And then along came the bodyboarders, the jet skis, the successful conquest of mutant ledges by even average surfers, and Tom Lochtefeld’s standing wave. Suddenly, a six-foot, five-second tube wasn’t radical anymore. Suddenly, it was way more thrilling for Slater to launch a flat rotation at Pipe than to make a ten-foot barrel. Suddenly, a dork called Billy Bryant was eating his lunch inside five-minute Flowrider tubes, emerging from his lair to launch kickflips and rodeos. And, most brutally, old fools wearing two life vests were suddenly claiming tubes bigger than anything Lopez would’ve touched at Pipe.

Why, where, how? Discuss.
The Bodyboarders: Thirty years ago, the tube ride was the sole preserve of expert surfers on leashless single-finned surfboards. In Hawai’i, at Kirra, along the reefs of newly discovered Indonesia, these men would disappear for three or four seconds at a time and emerge to rapturous applause from their filmers. Then along came Tom Morey’s boogie board and its Patron Saint Mike Stewart, who began riding deeper and longer inside waves than anyone before him. For the first time in history, a surfer began talking intimately and prosaically about the innermost workings of the tube-what he could see, what he felt, about the shock wave, and all in a calm manner utterly alien to the hipped-out, acid-dropping surfer. Good-bye to the tube as a key to the gates of enlightenment.
The Jet Skis: Any fool alive can ride a ten-foot barrel, whether Teahupo’o or Ours, if dragged over the ledge by a Yamaha or Sea-Doo. Even me, fearful of my own shadow, afraid of any wave that threatens to turn concave, once rode a death ledge tube at Ours-but only because I’d avoided the only difficult part of the transaction: the takeoff. What once cost a lifetime of skill and bravado can now be had as easily as a grande soy latte from Starbucks. Good-bye, scarcity of experience.
The Conquest Of Teahupo’o: At Teahupo ‘o’s first-ever professional surfing event, the Black Pearl Pro, it was comical how few of the professional surfers could handle the steep takeoff and bending hollow. One in-and-out tube per heat and you had a clean run into the final. Now look! The world’s best can ride the two deepest tubes of their life and still run a cold third in the first round of a WCT there. And, under six foot, tourists are all over it, including one relative novice I saw a few years back riding it on an old windsurfer (minus the sail). Ten years ago, a clean tube there would be a no-brainer for a worldwide cover. Submit a similar photo to TransWorld SURF in 2006 and a Hitler-esque photo nazi called Peter Taras (complete with short black hair slicked over his left temple) will march you out of the office for polluting his refined air with your mediocrity.
Lochtefeld’s Standing Wave: Seventeen years ago, Tom Lochtefeld made a prototype standing wave. Submerged propeller pumps juiced water over a foam bank creating a permanent tube that allowed a person to experience tubular bliss for however long they desired. A couple of hours’ practice and any clown could ride the endless tube, the surfing equivalent of affixing suction cups over the mons pubis and experiencing a never-ending orgasm. Why on earth would you travel to Indo, the world’s biggest Muslim nation, a place with a bigger chip on its shoulder toward the U.S.A. than Iran, when you can have a numerically superior experience right here in San Diego?
Well? Why would you? The answer, God forgive me, requires the abuse of surf clichà‡ and a descent into the sort of platitudes that’d normally only fill the pages of The Surfer’s Journal.
Here goes. The tube still matters, to me and you if not the surf media, because nothing beats a clean run into a good tube, when the wall curves over your head as both friend and foe, when the world suddenly turns into a Dave Troyer photo, when there’s a friend screaming madly from the channel with his arms raised in the air, when out of the corner of your eye you see water draining off a rock shelf, when, for a second, maybe two or three, you’re at the top of the food chain. Cue raised heartbeat, cue internal screaming.
The tube is dead; long live the tube!


Tube Riding: A Timeline Of Milestones
A Look At Some Of The Most Important Events In The Evolution Of Tube Riding

Surfing Begins: The stand-up version of surfing is generally thought to have started around A.D. 1000 in Hawai’i. Given the quality of waves combined with the Hawai’ian gift for all things watersport, you just know the first tube ever must’ve gone down in ancient times.

1777, Surfing Documented-Though Polynesians had been surfing for hundreds of years, the first written record of stand-up surfing was by British explorer Captain James Cook, observed while sailing through Hawai’i.

Early 1960s, Tube Time Starts-Conrad Canha and Sammy Lee, while surfing Ala Moana, became the first known surfers to getrd and its Patron Saint Mike Stewart, who began riding deeper and longer inside waves than anyone before him. For the first time in history, a surfer began talking intimately and prosaically about the innermost workings of the tube-what he could see, what he felt, about the shock wave, and all in a calm manner utterly alien to the hipped-out, acid-dropping surfer. Good-bye to the tube as a key to the gates of enlightenment.
The Jet Skis: Any fool alive can ride a ten-foot barrel, whether Teahupo’o or Ours, if dragged over the ledge by a Yamaha or Sea-Doo. Even me, fearful of my own shadow, afraid of any wave that threatens to turn concave, once rode a death ledge tube at Ours-but only because I’d avoided the only difficult part of the transaction: the takeoff. What once cost a lifetime of skill and bravado can now be had as easily as a grande soy latte from Starbucks. Good-bye, scarcity of experience.
The Conquest Of Teahupo’o: At Teahupo ‘o’s first-ever professional surfing event, the Black Pearl Pro, it was comical how few of the professional surfers could handle the steep takeoff and bending hollow. One in-and-out tube per heat and you had a clean run into the final. Now look! The world’s best can ride the two deepest tubes of their life and still run a cold third in the first round of a WCT there. And, under six foot, tourists are all over it, including one relative novice I saw a few years back riding it on an old windsurfer (minus the sail). Ten years ago, a clean tube there would be a no-brainer for a worldwide cover. Submit a similar photo to TransWorld SURF in 2006 and a Hitler-esque photo nazi called Peter Taras (complete with short black hair slicked over his left temple) will march you out of the office for polluting his refined air with your mediocrity.
Lochtefeld’s Standing Wave: Seventeen years ago, Tom Lochtefeld made a prototype standing wave. Submerged propeller pumps juiced water over a foam bank creating a permanent tube that allowed a person to experience tubular bliss for however long they desired. A couple of hours’ practice and any clown could ride the endless tube, the surfing equivalent of affixing suction cups over the mons pubis and experiencing a never-ending orgasm. Why on earth would you travel to Indo, the world’s biggest Muslim nation, a place with a bigger chip on its shoulder toward the U.S.A. than Iran, when you can have a numerically superior experience right here in San Diego?
Well? Why would you? The answer, God forgive me, requires the abuse of surf clichà‡ and a descent into the sort of platitudes that’d normally only fill the pages of The Surfer’s Journal.
Here goes. The tube still matters, to me and you if not the surf media, because nothing beats a clean run into a good tube, when the wall curves over your head as both friend and foe, when the world suddenly turns into a Dave Troyer photo, when there’s a friend screaming madly from the channel with his arms raised in the air, when out of the corner of your eye you see water draining off a rock shelf, when, for a second, maybe two or three, you’re at the top of the food chain. Cue raised heartbeat, cue internal screaming.
The tube is dead; long live the tube!


Tube Riding: A Timeline Of Milestones
A Look At Some Of The Most Important Events In The Evolution Of Tube Riding

Surfing Begins: The stand-up version of surfing is generally thought to have started around A.D. 1000 in Hawai’i. Given the quality of waves combined with the Hawai’ian gift for all things watersport, you just know the first tube ever must’ve gone down in ancient times.

1777, Surfing Documented-Though Polynesians had been surfing for hundreds of years, the first written record of stand-up surfing was by British explorer Captain James Cook, observed while sailing through Hawai’i.

Early 1960s, Tube Time Starts-Conrad Canha and Sammy Lee, while surfing Ala Moana, became the first known surfers to get barreled regularly.

1962, Mr. Pipeline-In 1961, Phil Edwards was credited as being the first person to ride Pipe, but it was legendary La Jolla surfer Butch Van Artsdalen who became known as the first surfer to charge it.

1967, The Shortboard Revolution-Bob McTavish and George Greenough’s surfboard design innovations transformed surfboards from lumbering ten-footers into the arena of six- and seven-footers. One result was that the smaller boards were able to fit better into the steeper curves of the wave while in the tube, allowing surfers to stall and maneuver easier and ride much deeper.

Early 70s, Lopez Zens Out-Tube riding existed before Gerry Lopez, but it would never be the same after him. At Pipeline during the winter of 1969/70, he pushed barrel riding into a completely new realm, going deeper than anyone before. It seemed like the deeper and more dangerous the tube, the more casual he looked. He was the undisputed king of the barrel throughout the early 70s, and some would argue, well beyond.

1973, Bodyboard Released-Tom Morey’s invention was meant to bring wave riding to the masses, and it did. But years later, spongers would progress the sport and pioneer waves that surfers at the time wanted no part of like Teahupo’o, Shark Island, Ours, and others.

Mid 70s, Shaun’s Freeride-Shaun Tomson pumped and turned inside the barrel, where others had only gone straight. His aggressive approach set the stage for modern tube riding, and inspired surfers to go after anything that barreled, not just breaks with perfect tube setups.

1975/76, Backside Attack-Shaun Tomson, Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, Michael Ho, and others took backside surfing to a new level at Pipeline. Before this, tube riding was primarily a frontside endeavor.

1977, Waimea Barrel-James Jones gets the first tube ever at Waimea Bay, pushing the boundaries of big-wave barrel riding.

80s, Great Dane-Hawai’ian power surfer Dane Keoloha consistently rode deeper in the tube than anyone of his era at Backdoor. And while going left at Pipeline, Keoloha (along with Michael Ho) developed the grab rail stance later termed pig-dogging, a highly functional backside tube-riding technique that would allow surfers to get deeper than ever on their backsides.

1986, Hello Teahupo’o-Bodyboarders Mike Stewart and Ben Severson rode sizeable Teahupo’o, clearing the path for surfers almost a decade later, when the break made its way into some rogue surf movie and magazine coverage. It would soon gain the reputation for the heaviest wave in the world.

1992, Year Of The Tow In-Laird Hamilton, Buzz Kerbox, and Darrick Doerner begin to fine-tuned their quest to use personal watercraft (PWC) to tow each other into waves too big to paddle into.

1996, Beschen’s Perfection-Shane Beschen made history at the Billabong Pro at Kirra by becoming the only surfer ever to rack up three tens in one heat, scoring 30 out of 30, largely from a series of ultra-long barrels.

1999, Cory Paddles In-Cory Lopez’s two waves at the Gotcha Pro at Teahupo’o were considered among the heaviest waves ever paddled into, instantly raising the bar for what would be attempted out there. Others (like C.J. Hobgood in 2005) would later go bigger, but Cory made the first big leap.

2000, Laird Meets Teahupo’o-Tow-in pioneer Laird Hamilton got towed into what was at the time the most awe-inspiring tube ever seen. It was surpassed a few years later by Tahitian surfer Malik Joyeux, who got an even heavier wave. And in 2005, Shane Dorian would get an unbelievably gnarly barrel.

2001, Backside Attack, Part 2-Slater and the Irons brothers’ performances at Teahupo’o and Pipeline proved that the tube could be ridden backside just as deep and stylishly as frontside, even if they were virtually the only ones capable of it.

2004, No Second Thoughts-Timmy Turner and crew’s low-budget video showed the surf world you don’t