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The winner of the Volcom Pipe Pro Contest: Johnny Wallbridge tells us his free trip to Hawaii

Back in September I got an email that I had a hard time believing was real.
It read:
“Hi Johnny!
CONGRATULATIONS!!
You are the winner of the Volcom Pipe Pro Contest!!”
My stomach instantly twisted at the thought this could be real, after all the senders email address looked legit and I had a memory watching the Pipe Pro contest online and filling out a very basic form asking for my name and email address in exchange for a chance of being whisked away to Hawaii to watch the Volcom 2016 Pipe Pro contest in person!
Fast forward 4 months and I’m stood with my wife about to board a flight from Heathrow to Hawaii courtesy of Volcom – This was the dream trip we’d wanted to do 6 months ago for our Honeymoon but were unable to afford it. I was still pinching myself in disbelief this was reality.

The trip started off with somewhat of a bump; 3 hours in to our journey to LAX we had just flown over Iceland when the captain came on the loud speaker to announce that unfortunately we were turning round and heading back to London due to multiple medical emergencies where passengers and crew members were passing out and feeling sick. We still don’t’ know what the cause of this was but the Daily Mail had a field day with it.
My initial feeling was utter disbelief – was our dream trip about to come to an end before it even began? The 3-hour flight back to London was a blur of confusion following by an hour sat on the runway surrounded by fire engines, police cars and Ambulances; it really was a surreal experience. Finally American Airlines put us up for the night in a nearby hotel and confirmed that we’d be on the same flights just a day later, this meant we would still have 6 full days in Hawaii so my spirits were massively lifted.
The following day went much smoother until we landed in LAX where we discovered our luggage had not made the flight and had gone missing, fortunately though my boards had made it. We had a manic rush to catch our connecting flight to Hawaii and finally arrived at our accommodation on the North Shore around 1.30am Hawaiian time.

Our first port of call in the morning was to head straight to the Volcom store at Haliewa to get kitted out with some fresh gear courtesy of American Airlines as we’d now been in the same clothes for 3 days having initially travelled from our home in Guernsey to London.
Feeling more in place on the North Shore in a fresh tee and boardies we headed straight to Pipe where the first day of competition had just started, our brains still dazed and bodies drained we sat in front of Backdoor watching guys getting completely hosed out of massive kegs – Instant gratification which was then upped to another level when we looked out the back to see two huge whales in full breach mode. It was almost too much to take in, the 3 full days of travel taken to get here and lost luggage suddenly didn’t matter in the slightest!
After a good nights sleep I was gagging to get in the water myself, Volcom had hooked us up with an awesome house above Foodland in the hills so we were a mere 5 minute drive away from Pipe. I set off before it got properly light and checked Off-The-Wall/Backdoor which for my first surf in Hawaii was a little out of control and closing out so opted for Rocky Point which looked super fun albeit with a few daunting sets thrown in the mix. 

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I paddled out on the biggest board I brought with me, a 6’3 CI Taco Grinder which is the longest board I’ve ridden for years as we don’t get many big days in Guernsey and when we do it doesn’t really pack a punch so you can still ride a standard shortboard.
I managed to get a handful of super fun lefts and rights and like many peoples first surf in Hawaii was blown away by the power, but in a really good way.
I sat in between sets gazing at the natural beauty of the palm fringed beaches which soon elevated in to tropical green hills, it really was everything and more I’d dreamt of having gazed at images of Hawaii in surf mags for the last 16 years.

In between surfs we checked out the Island and it’s stunning scenery especially on the Windward side where the landscape is truly spectacular, you can fully see why they filmed parts of Jurassic Park around that area.
Just don’t do what we did and get stuck in Honolulu rush hour traffic whilst trying to drive around the Island!
Ever since I started surfing I’ve been fascinated by Pipe and in particular Backdoor, the following day I knew would be my only chance to surf there with the swell due to drop before a serious bump in size the day after so the comp was likely to fire in to life again.
I got down to Off-The-Wall before the sun came up and there were a couple of guys already on it and a few solid sets still coming through so I ran back to the car to get my board.
The paddle-out wasn’t too bad and by that I mean I got lucky and somehow timed it during a lull. I picked off a few at Off the Wall before paddling across to Backdoor where there was only one other guy in and about 6 guys at Pipe. I snagged a few nice sets at Backdoor with a couple of them staying well open then went over to Pipe. I got 5 or 6 waves that included one really nice open barrel that unfortunately pinched on exit and also a decent wipeout that resulted in a gentle bounce off the bottom.

As the sun properly came up the crowds poured in and I was stoked I’d got up super early for those few waves before it got busy with QS guys and locals warming up for the comp, along with all the other shredders and travellers that flock to the North Shore.

Johnny-2-ok

When it got pretty crowded and I thought my session was done I somehow managed to pick of two medium sized rights that swung wide of the pack, resulting in my two best barrels of the trip. Stoked!

Later that day the swell really dropped out and I again surfed backdoor where I had fun but could not believe how shallow the inside was when it was that size (under double overhead). This resulted in lots of encounters with the reef paddling back out and a smashed in tail.
The next day we woke up nice and early and straight away turned the webcast on to be greeted with the news the swell had jumped up as expected and the comp was GO! We bolted for the beach and got a sick spot next to the water patrol tent, which was right in front of John Johns house. What then unfolded over the next 8 hours was something I’ve never witnessed before!

Having watched every pipe contest online since they’ve been broadcast I felt like I had quite a good grasp on what to expect but seeing the place unload in person is almost indescribable, the sound of lips detonating was combined with feeling the raw power vibrate through the sand, it’s these things that you can’t experience watching it online that make you really appreciate how gnarly it is out there, this along with the buzz and excitement on the beach when sets start to stack up on 3rd reef and seeing the most insane tube rides go down made it the best day I’ve ever had at the beach! Not to mention we met JJF and Mark Cunningham!
I remember going to bed that night with my head in a spin trying to replay over and over what had just taken place!

The following day I woke to a very cool email from Will at Volcom Europe saying if we wanted to cruise along to the Volcom house they’d hook us up with some gear – it was like all my Christmases’ came at once! Never did I think we’d get an invite to pop in to the Gerry Lopez house and I certainly didn’t envisage it would go beyond that, being welcomed in with open arms, getting to hang out all day in the presence of greatness and party to the early hours!

This day was like a whirlwind; we were met by Kris Lyman who could not have been more hospitable, he introduced us to everyone, which involved an instant meeting with the main man himself, Richard Woolcott.

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As a surf shop owner that’s stocked Volcom since 2003 (and is my favourite brand) it was a proper rock star moment for me and I went straight in to surf fan mode getting a pic with him.

Dave Wassel then gave us the full tour of the place, by this time my head was in a full spin cycle. I mean come on, we’re in the most legendary surf house in the world being shown around by Wassel!
He could not have been nicer and gave us a full run down on the history of the place along with some insane local knowledge of the conditions at pipe, why it was currently so good and offering his full blown inside info on the most famous wave in the world that could only be extracted from North Shore charger.
Then came a barrage of trippy moments, meeting Dusty, Mitch, a live webcast interview with Jason Shibata, having a chat with Slater prior to another flawless heat, meeting all the Volcom crew Matt Bemrose, Billy Hume and Kevin Meehan who made our day all the more special with their overwhelming stoke and hospitality.

Johnny-3-ok

The final day of competition was such a whirlwind with what Volcom put on for us that I haven’t even talked about the insanity that was unfolding out front in the water in what many were calling the best pipe for 2 years! We even heard from a couple locals hanging round the house that they’ve spent 25 years there and they’ve never seen it this good for 2 days straight with perfect winds and no lulls in the sets.
It makes me realise just how lucky we were not only to get a chance to go to Hawaii but to witness the Pipe Pro go down in such all time conditions.

My final day in Hawaii I was gagging to tick off one final thing on my bucket list so I met up with my mate Mark Durbano from Jersey who spends a fair amount of time in Hawaii as he has a place there and was kind enough to lend me a more suitable board than anything I’d brought with me, a 9’0 to give Sunset a bash!

 

Johnny---1-ok

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Given that I’ve never ridden anything over 6’10 this board and the waves we were paddling out in were pretty alien to me. At the end of the long paddle I realised just how big it was, what the locals were calling 12ft+ Hawaiian. I played a cautious game for 30 minutes sitting wide and far out whilst getting my bearings, paddling wide as hard as I could every time the horizon went dark.

After dodging a few bombs I felt a bit more at ease and put myself in right spot to stroke in to one and instantly the fastest I’ve ever been on a board not to mention ride the biggest wave of my life. Half an hour later I was in the perfect spot again and got what felt like an even bigger one, I was frothing and decided to call it quits, it was the most perfect way to end our Hawaiian experience and what easily goes down as the best week of my life.

Thanks to everyone at Volcom that made this dream a reality.

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