Senior Editor

Big wave charger Kohl Christensen has nabbed some incredible waves at Pipeline over the years. More so than most people on the planet. He’s rolled in from second reef, pulled into the section at first reef, waiting patiently to get barreled on the inside. Hundreds of times.

But this wave was different. During a powerful New Years swell, Kohl pulled in but something went horribly wrong. According to friends and witnesses, after the wave closed out on him, Kohl either impacted his board or the reef and came up in serious trouble, as  lifeguards raced to the rescue.

“Yesterday, at the end of a 2nd reef bomb,” wrote friend Casey Goepel, “Kohl wiped out and hit his head on the reef. He cut his head open and fractured his skull. Thanks to the incredible team of @northshorelifeguardassociation and first responders, Kohl was swiftly rescued and given the best care possible. After successful brain surgery, he’s exceeding all expectations and we’re hoping for a speedy recovery. We are eternally grateful for his surgical team at Queens.”

From social media comments, it sounds as if Kohl will be able to make a full recovery.


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You may have seen a photo at Pipeline by @_danielrusso_ on 1/23/19. Back lit, mesmerizing. The glittering essence of Pipeline. Ice blue. You can almost smell the ocean spray. An INSERT me here PLEASE type of photo. Daniel and I spent the morning surfing an outer reef off of the jetski and stopped at Pipeline on the way home to the harbor in hopes the winds would go back offshore. Just a handful of guys out @kellyslater being one of them. It had the size and the feel but just wasn’t quite there. I jumped in with the hopes it would turn on. It did, and so did the crowd. Like the droves of zombies climbing over the wall in the movie World War Z , surfers started pouring out of the houses and into the lineup. Trying to position myself just outside the main pack but away from any other surfers in hopes I may get launched from the second reef into a first reef chasm. Days before the swell, I visualized the moment. The wave. The low crouch and the spit. Don’t let it blow you off the board. The take off wasn’t how I envisioned it. Such is Life. Sean Lopez and I were scratching to the north trying to avoid the wall of whitewater mowing guys down from the west. The first wave went by with a surfer but the second one was breaking wider and had caught everyone sitting further outside. As we scratched up the wave sideways, whitewater parading down the point, I looked down towards Pupukea and could see the stretch of the wave and that magic bend. Something inside said go. I quickly glanced at Sean and could tell he was a hair too deep. My position allowed me to catch the wave sideways as I was paddling up it, having to point the board not to get blown off the wave but catch enough whitewater to project me down the face. Regroup body… mind… Bottom turn, set the line, get low and let it ride… here’s Pete Hodgson’s (@flipperhawaii) angle of the same wave from down the beach. Its not as warm and fuzzy as Russo’s. Reminding us all how deep of a role perspective can play in life. 🙏 Pipeline. #ohulalihakea @patagonia_surf

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Kohl joined our podcast while we were on the North Shore two weeks ago (his podcast drops next week), and talked about creating the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group with partners Danilo Couto and Brian Keaulana in 2011. “Realizing that not all of us have those life-saving skills,” Kohl said of the class inspired by the death of Sion Milosky, “we created a condensed course that’s not too long, that’s affordable and you get a ton of information and it’s really rewarding to see how it’s grown over the last eight years and the lives it’s changed and saved.”

Our thoughts are with Kohl and his family as he works to heal up. Stay safe out there.



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