Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay aren’t the only places to see big-wave surfing in Hawaii. Hop over to Maui’s North Shore, and you’ll see what we’re talking about – specifically to a place called “Jaws.”
Maui-born Ian Walsh charges Jaws on Maui. The waves are so big and so quick that surfers usually get towed in with a jet ski.
The deepwater reef break is known for its ferocious waves that are rumored to reach heights of up to 120-feet and move as fast as 30 mph. Because of the immense size and speed, most wave riders must get towed-in by jet ski. On big days, it’s almost impossible to paddle into waves (using only their arms), like you see most surfers do at other breaks. Even experienced kite surfers take on the wrath of Jaws.
Jaws, also known as Peahi in Hawaiian (the name for the surrounding district), has been at the forefront of the recent tow surfing revolution around the world. Many people had not heard about this spot until several surf documentaries came out during early 2000. This turned out to be both good and bad because on one hand, the films highlighted some of the world’s most elite surfers. On the other, they drew larger crowds of unexperienced surfers to the break and therefore, creating hazardous surfing conditions for everyone. So far, no one has drowned at Jaws.
VIDEO: It’s “carnage and chaos” at Jaws, as put by Maui surfer Ian Walsh.
Several prominent surfers have been lobbying to regulate tow surfing at this break for safety reasons. A couple years after the documentaries debuted, old cars were placed across the road to Jaws and intentionally set on fire. Many say this blockage happened after the lookout was overcrowded by spectators one big day, not only making it dangerous for unexperienced surfers but observers as well.
Today, the surf can be viewed from a high sea cliff overhead; however, space is limited. The only way to get to it is by foot, since only four-wheel drive vehicles can access the road to Jaws from the main highway. The roundtrip walk to the lookout is about three miles. Experts advise spectators to use extreme caution and to avoid bringing small kids along, as there are no lifeguards nor hospitals nearby in case of an emergency.
It does take some luck for tourists to watch surfers charge Jaws during the winter months. Because of how dangerous it can be here, the conditions and wave heights must be perfect. And when they are “perfect,” you’ll know. The island is instantly buzzing with excitement, as big waves at Jaws become the talk of the town.
Australian kitesurfer Jason Polakaw dropping into a bomb at Jaws.
Billabong holds its annual XXL Global Big Wave contest during these bouts of big surf. Some big name chargers have even started to paddle into these waves instead of tow in. It’s a dangerous feat that only the best of the best are able to take on. A feat that prompted Red Bull to hold a new contest called the Red Bull Paddle at Pe’ahi. Starting this winter surf season of 2012-13, the contest is the first of its kind at Jaws and is expected to be the most nerve-wracking for everyone watching.
Photo and Video Footage Courtesy: Red Bull
JAWS PEAHI • Hana Hwy., between #13 and 14 mile marker • Minimal parking along the side of road