One warm day in September, I was walking down 8th Avenue in NYC, heading to Penn Station for a train home. I was near Port Authority--not the most beautiful place in the world, to say the least—and I was lost in the long day and what the rest of the week held in store. The sidewalk was packed with commuters, lost tourists, guys hawking ‘designer’ watches, students and homeless. Everyone was just going where they needed to go and few seemed inspired by much, if anything at all.
And then amidst this maddening crowd, my eyes were drawn to a deeply tanned guy with angular features, long pulled back hair and a beautiful woman on his arm. I only saw them for a second before they passed, but they were magnetic, unlike anyone else I’d passed in the twenty blocks prior. I actually said out loud to no one in particular, “Holy Shit. That’s Pipe legend Tamayo Perry”.
I back tracked up the block, caught up to them on the corner and said, “I’m sorry, but are you Tamayo?”
“Yeah! This is my wife Emilia. What’s your name?”
And just like that, I got to chat with one of the greatest Pipe chargers our sport has ever known, right there on the sidewalk in NYC. He couldn’t have been more gracious and an easy energy emanated from him amidst the chaos of one of the seediest parts of the city.
Tamayo is one of Hawaii's great ambassadors, having grown up on Oahu and surfing since the age of nine.
He found his calling snagging Pipe bombs and made a name for himself in the shallow reef caverns that make most of us pee our boardshorts. He’s no joke, never abandoning his flowing style regardless of how steep the drop or how big the barrel. He’s always looked unflappable, as though he’d just as soon bust out a hoagie and a Coke during his bottom turn as he would eye his line.
And here’s the thing—Tamayo has been surfing Pipe for twenty-six years. Take a moment for that to process. Twenty-six years. Twenty-six winters battling it out in the toughest line-up in our sport. Can you imagine the emotional toil most of us would suffer if we had to go to war with every pro, Pipe regular, up-and-comer and has-been that ever was whenever we wanted to ride a wave? And we had to do it with 12’15’ sets washing through? That’s a long time. But is the juice worth the squeeze? You bet your ass. I’ve never surfed Pipe—never had the balls to be honest. But seeing just a few of the hundreds (heck, probably thousands) of barrels that Tamayo has pocketed, his obsession is understandable. He’s also definitely paid the price, most famously getting over fifty stitches in his head when an up-and-comer ditched his board to get under a wave. But Tamayo is still at it and the sunset of his Pipe years are far and away. In fact, the man bagged an O’Neill Wave of the Winter nominee in January for a windy macker.
So, given his front row seat to the best Hawaiian surfing, I thought it’d be cool to hear a few of his Top 5 lists as it relates to Pipe and Hawaii in general. Tamayo pulled some surprises out of the bag for us and even kept adding a 6th to boot. Also got his thoughts on the next young stud that’ll change the sport and what he’s looking for from Pipe these days. Check out his responses below.
Top 5 Pipe Surfers of All Time
1) Tom Carroll
2) Gerry Lopez
3) Dane Kealoha
4) Ronnie Burns
5) Johnny 'Boy' Gomes
6) “I just gotta include Jock Sutherland”
Top 5 Big Wave Surfers This Winter:
1) Shane Dorian
2) Greg Long
3) Albee Layer
4) Will Skudin
5) Ross Clarke Jones
Top 5 Best Surfers of All Time
1) Mark Occhilupo
2) Tom Curren
3) Tom Carroll
4) Dane Kealoha
5) Kelly Slater
... And I just gotta throw in Andy Irons
Most Impressive in Hawaii This Winter
To be honest, this has been such a bad season other than the months of January, February and the first week of March. Even then…these months have been huge. So, all the action has shifted to Waimea and the outer reefs. I guess overall, the majority of the guys who have been banging it out on the monster days at Jaws have been madly inspiring.
The Next Great Up and Comer (the young surfer who’s going to change the game in the next few years)
After John John's win at the Eddie Aikau (at Waimea), I'm assuming he’ll have an interesting big wave fire lit under his ass. Throughout this HUMONGUS winter, he surely seemed to be headed in that direction, with various committed appearances at a variety of big wave venues.
What are you looking for from your Pipe sessions these days?
I used to be a gluttonous pig when I surfed Pipe, but now I try to be patient and precise and do my best to pick 3-5 of the choicest waves that come through during a particular session. It's a fierce crowd out at Pipe and everyone wants a piece of it, or at least they think they do anyway. I choose to play the quality not quantity kind of game. Besides, people tend to forget, Pipe will kill you! So the way I figure it, the more calculated you are, the more longevity you’ll have.
How do you top what you've already done at Pipe?
The interesting thing I've discovered throughout the 26 years surfing Pipeline is that from my very first real and absolutely exhilarating tube ride at the Banzai, all the way up to this last Valentine’s Day, where Pipe went off its head, if you catch a solid one at Pipeline, you don't remember much. I can honestly say that I can't remember three-fourths of my best tube rides. And with that being said, I truly believe that’s where the addiction of Pipeline lies.