PUPUKEA, Hawaii – The celebratory mood at the Pipeline surf competition on Oahu's North Shore shifted quickly.
Shortly after the conclusion of the 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters, Hayden Rodgers, the under-14 national champion, took off on a 10-foot wave. Then he disappeared.
When he resurfaced, his motionless body bobbed up and down in the sloshing foam. He had collided headfirst with the reef below. He was not breathing and had no pulse. After two forceful compressions to his chest, he coughed up a torrent of sand and sea.
Hayden has made a full recovery. But the dangerously close call — witnessed by the sport's biggest names — sent a ripple through the surfing community. People usually focused more on looking stylish than being practical started wearing helmets.
"The ocean can be risky," said Brian Keaulana, a lifeguard. "But it's all about having the proper knowledge and skill level and the right equipment to reduce all those risks."
Surfers always have aimed to display how skilled and stylish they are, not necessarily how safe. Nobody wants to look like a child out for a bike ride with their parents.
"Obviously, you look cooler if you don't have a helmet on," said pro surfer Kalani Chapman. "But I think people are putting that aside nowadays, which is great."
Nor are helmets the only safety device gaining favor. Some surfers have started wearing inflatable vests that help them surface quickly after a fall.
While peer pressure once might have discouraged wearing safety gear, the reverse can happen now. Hayden's mother, Stacey Rodgers, recalled what happened when a helmetless surfer paddled out to Pipeline in December. "He got kind of heckled," she said.