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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 3, 2006

Kapela wins his first Pipeline Bodysurfing

 •  For exercise, education take a walk on the unwild side

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Steve Kapela fulfilled his lifelong Pipe dream Wednesday.

Kapela won the prestigious Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic in 4- to 8-foot waves at the Banzai Pipeline.

"Just being able to enter this contest was enough for me," said Kapela, 43. "Being able to surf Pipeline in its purest form is the biggest thing. Winning? I never thought I'd do it because there are so many good competitors in it. It was always just a lifelong dream for me."

The Pipeline Bodysurfing Contest started in 1971, and it is considered one of the top events in the world for bodysurfers because it offers a rare opportunity for them to ride the famous barreling waves. The competitors ride the waves with just their bodies, and swim fins are the only equipment allowed.

"Most days at Pipe, it's all surfers and bodyboarders out there, so (the bodysurfers) don't get any waves," said Kapela, who resides in Kailua. "This is our one special day."

It turned very special for Kapela with a last-second wave in the six-man final.

"I got two mediocre waves before that, and I heard the announcer say there was one minute left, so I was ready to take last place," he said. "Then with about 30 seconds left, I saw a nice wave lineup and I took it got a barrel and then did an off-the-lip floater and made it all the way to the beach."

It was Kapela's first Pipeline victory after third-place finishes in 2002 and 2004.

The victory may have also involved a bit of karma.

At last year's Pipeline Classic, Kapela withdrew from the semifinals because his legs were cramping.

"I didn't want to put the water patrol (lifeguards) in jeopardy just because I wanted to win the contest," he said. "My safety and the safety of those guys was more important."

Kapela said he learned his lesson from last year and "ate a lot more bananas and drank a lot of liquids" before this year's event.

Hawai'i competitors took the top three places: Todd Sells, who won the 2005 Pipeline Classic, placed second, and Mark Cunningham was third.

California bodysurfers Jeff Johnson and Aaron Ungerleider placed fourth and fifth, respectively. Brazil's Rodrigo Bruno was sixth.

Hawai'i's Mike Stewart, who owns a record 10 Pipeline Classic titles, was eliminated in the semifinals.

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com.