Mapping Pipeline: discovering the reef beneath the world’s most famous surf break

The Banzai Pipeline is the ultimate testing ground for big wave surfers and home to several of the world’s most prestigious surf competitions. In the winter months, swells rise up from deep water to crash over the coral reefs that surround Oahu, absorbing much of the raw oceanic energy.

While most of the focus is on what happens above the surface, many people are concerned with the health of the coral that helps shape such a perfect wave.

Surf brand, REEF partnered with Dr. Cliff Kapono – a surfer and ASU professor, who is on the Board of Directors for the Surfrider Foundation, a Saves the Wave Coalition Ambassador, Guinness Book World Record holder, and more, to be a part of their impressive lineup of brand ambassadors. Throughout their partnership with Dr. Cliff, the brand has worked on several projects that are a part of its strong focus on researching and protecting coral reefs.

First, was Observe & Conserve – a live stream of Native Hawaiian coral and marine life in Hawai’i that collected data to help local and international scientists better understand and protect the reef.

Second, was The Honoli’i Project – a four-part docuseries that explored the importance of a coral reef and educated viewers on the importance of protecting the ocean and what lives in it, through science and surf.

Third, and most recent, is Mapping Pipeline.

About the Mapping Pipeline Project

Mapping Pipeline launched in December 2021, with the objective of using scientific innovation to preserve and protect coral reef ecosystems globally.

As a scientist, surfer and activist, whose work focuses on developing innovative methods of monitoring reefs and interpreting the chemical and geophysical impacts affecting coral systems, Dr. Cliff teamed up with an organization called the MEGA Lab to explore how mapping the most well-known and jagged sharp reef, The Banzai Pipeline, can help better protect reefs across the world.

Discover more in this video from Dr. Cliff’s Vimeo channel.

About the MEGA Lab

The multi-scale environmental graphical analysis (MEGA) lab is a global consortium of scientists, athletes, and artists who use science as a way to improve our planet. Their goal is to create innovative solutions that protect our oceans while supporting communities that rely on the marine environment. Based in Hilo, Hawaii, the MEGA lab currently consists of three main research groups that specialize in marine ecology, data science, climate change, and molecular analysis. Storytelling through digital media and creative arts is a large component to the work of the MEGA lab.

In the Mapping Pipeline project, they will be studying coral health along with developing innovative ways to monitor the reef by creating 3D models of the benthic environments. These models are then used to interpret the chemical, and geophysical impacts that affect coral systems.

Photo from

Dr. Cliff Kapono’s perspective

REEF’s work with Dr. Cliff advances global awareness and knowledge around the importance that coral reefs play on our planet and how we can work together to protect them. 

We connected with Dr. Cliff, who said:

“Since mapping Pipeline we have identified one of the most interesting benthic features at the wave.

There is a deep spur and groove feature that sits just north of the reef. It is known as “the crack” to many of the locals. We are now looking into how this could potentially benefit the way the wave breaks and provides surfers with a great ending of ride.

We have also identified some small recruit corals that show despite the immense amount of energy that these reefs take from wave action, corals are incredibly resilient.”

Connect with Cliff on Instagram

Q&A with pro surfer and Pipeline local, Coco Ho

Connect with Coco on Instagram

Coco Ho is a REEF ambassador who comes from a long line of professional surfers. Sister of Mason Ho, daughter of surfing icon, Michael Ho and niece to 1993 World Champion, Derek Ho. She’s regarded as an heiress to a Hawaiian surfing legacy. We asked her some questions…

Hey Coco, what’s the significance of the Mapping Pipeline project for you? 

Mapping Pipeline is important so we can account for any environmental changes happening before our eyes. It’s also really cool to know what we’re getting barrelled over, haha. 

Any memorable experiences with the reef at Pipeline? Do you spend much time exploring it in the off-season?

Thankfully not too many memorable experiences with the reef at pipeline but as a kid in the summer it was always the most unique reef to snorkel and check out. 

Three things you’re looking forward to this winter season?

  1. A lot more time at backdoor. 
  2. March swells when everyone is gone! Haha.
  3. Enjoying the beauty of home! 

Perspectives from surf brand, REEF

We caught up with Jen Wilson, Sr. Director of Marketing, at REEF.

What’s the significance for REEF in collaborating with scientists like Dr Cliff?

Coral reefs are an integral part of REEF’s mission to protect our playground. Without a healthy coral reef the ocean’s ecosystem and our ability to enjoy it is at risk. Our work with Dr. Cliff Kapono advances global awareness and knowledge around the importance that coral reefs play on our planet and how we can work together to protect them. Cliff’s work through the Mega Lab focuses on developing innovative methods of monitoring and interpreting the chemical and geophysical impacts affecting coral systems, which is critical to understanding how we can protect coral reefs around the world. 

How can the REEF community support efforts like Mapping Pipeline?

The best way to support coral reefs is to get educated and get involved. Part of our goal with Cliff was to make science accessible and actionable for anyone, anywhere. Through our “Observe & Conserve” program, participants can tune into a live stream of a small patch​ of reef off the western most point of Hawaii’s Big Island.

People are then invited to comment, identify, and discover all the different species living on the reef. Every comment and​ timestamp gives scientists the ability to understand more about how reefs within their ecosystems.

The project is designed to revolutionize marine monitoring by developing innovative observatory stations that leverage technological advancements to improve our capacity to monitor coral reefs in the face of climate change. In 2022, REEF is committed to launching even more projects with Cliff that educate and invite active participation from our community.

Visit REEF to find out more about their mission, products, ambassadors and initiatives.