Jaws, also known as Peʻahi, is a legendary big wave surfing spot located on the North Shore of Maui, Hawaii. It’s famous for producing some of the largest waves in the world, often reaching heights of 30 to 80 feet. This surf spot is not for everyone; it’s reserved for the most experienced and skilled surfers due to its immense power, size, and the dangers associated with its massive waves.The underwater topography of Peʻahi plays a crucial role in the formation of its massive waves.
The bottom at Peʻahi is primarily a reef composed of rock and coral. This reef structure is a key factor in the wave formation at Jaws. As ocean swells travel towards the shore, the decreasing depth of the ocean floor causes the waves to rise in height and steepness. At Peʻahi, the unique shape and composition of the reef bottom act as a ramp that lifts and shapes the incoming swells into the towering waves that surfers ride.
This rocky and uneven reef bottom is instrumental in the creation of the large, powerful, and often very dangerous waves that make Jaws famous. The waves here can reach heights of up to 60 feet (18 meters) or more, making it a destination for experienced and professional big wave surfers from around the world. The combination of the size, power, and shape of the waves, influenced by the reef’s topography, results in a challenging and exhilarating surfing experience.
Jaws, also known as Peʻahi, is a legendary big wave surfing spot located on the North Shore of Maui, Hawaii. It’s famous for producing some of the largest and most challenging waves in the world, often reaching heights of 30 to 80 feet. This surf spot is not for everyone; it’s reserved for the most experienced and skilled surfers due to its immense power, size, and the dangers associated with its massive waves.
Who Can Surf at Jaws?
Jaws is strictly for highly experienced big wave surfers. The combination of the wave’s size, power, and the technical skill required to navigate it, along with the inherent risks, make it unsuitable for casual or intermediate surfers. It’s a place where the elite of the surfing world come to test their limits against some of the most powerful waves on the planet.
Evolution of Surfing at Jaws
- Early Discovery (1970s): Jaws was named by surfers John Lemus, John Potterick, and John Roberson in 1975 after the blockbuster movie “Jaws.” They were among the first to surf its waves, initially riding smaller swells.
- Windsurfing Era (1980s): Surfers like Dave Kalama, Mark Pedersen, and Brett Lickle ventured into the waters of Jaws with their windsurfing kits, exploring its potential for windsurfing.
- Tow-In Surfing Revolution (1990s): The spot gained worldwide fame when Laird Hamilton, Darrick Doerner, Buzzy Kerbox, and others in the “Strapped Crew” pioneered tow-in surfing here. This method, involving jet skis to tow surfers into waves, made it possible to catch the monstrously large waves at Jaws, which were impossible to paddle into due to their size and speed.
- Paddle-In Surfing Resurgence (21st Century): In recent years, there has been a shift back to paddle-in surfing at Jaws. This transition was marked by feats like South African Chris Bertish paddling into a Jaws wave using arm power only.
Notable Surfers and Their Experiences
- Laird Hamilton: A pioneer at Jaws, Hamilton was instrumental in developing tow-in surfing here. His fearless approach set a new standard for big wave surfing.
- Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms, Andrea Moller: These women are among the most experienced surfers tackling Peahi. Their participation underscores that Jaws is not just a domain for male surfers but a challenge for any top-level big wave surfer.
- Gary Linden & Landon McNamara: Older and younger surfers alike have braved these waves, showing the wide appeal and challenge it offers to different generations.
The Wave Itself
- Right-Hand Barreling Wave: Jaws predominantly offers a right-hand break, ideal during northern swells and southeasterly winds. On rare occasions, it provides left-hand rides.
- Unpredictability: The wave at Jaws is notorious for its unpredictability. What appears to be a perfect formation can quickly transform into a dangerous closeout.
- Hazards: Strong offshore winds, choppy conditions, and the risk of being caught inside make Jaws a perilous spot. The underwater geography, with its deep-water reef, adds to the danger.
Cultural and Historical Context
- Local Hawaiian Culture: The name “Pe’ahi” honors the local culture, and Leslie Kuloloio noted the traditional Hawaiian name for the break as Ke Kai ‘o Waitakulu (“The Teary Eye”).
- Film and Media: Jaws has been featured in various films and documentaries, further cementing its legendary status in the surfing world.
Remarkable Surfers at Jaws
- Kai Lenny: Known for his versatility, Lenny has tackled Jaws using various forms of surfing, including traditional paddle-in surfing, tow-in surfing, windsurfing, and even kitesurfing. His innovative approach and ability to handle massive waves have placed him among the legends of Jaws.
- Laird Hamilton: A pioneer in the big wave surfing community, Hamilton was one of the first to explore the potential of Jaws. He was instrumental in popularizing tow-in surfing at Jaws, enabling surfers to ride the gigantic waves that were previously thought to be unsurfable.
- Albee Layer: Known for his progressive approach and aerial maneuvers, Layer has pushed the limits of what’s possible in big wave surfing at Jaws. He’s also one of the few surfers to successfully complete a 540-degree spin on a big wave.
- Shane Dorian: A big wave legend, Dorian has been at the forefront of pushing the boundaries at Jaws. His performances, especially in paddle-in surfing, have been pivotal in the evolution of the sport.
- Billy Kemper: A four-time winner of the Pe’ahi Challenge, Kemper’s intimate knowledge of Jaws and his fearless approach have earned him a reputation as one of the best big wave surfers in the world.
- Paige Alms: As one of the leading female big wave surfers, Alms has made a name for herself with her performances at Jaws. She’s a multiple-time winner of the Women’s Pe’ahi Challenge, showcasing her skill and bravery in tackling the massive waves.
- Greg Long: An accomplished big wave surfer, Long is known for his calculated and technical approach to surfing Jaws. He’s respected for his deep understanding of ocean dynamics and wave forecasting.
- Ian Walsh: Walsh has been a standout performer at Jaws, known for his fearless approach and deep barrel riding skills. He’s also a local to Maui, giving him a unique understanding of the wave.
- Grant Baker: The South African surfer, also known as “Twiggy,” is known for his big wave prowess worldwide, including at Jaws. His experience and skill in heavy water conditions make him a formidable presence in the lineup.
- Keala Kennelly: A trailblazer in women’s big wave surfing, Kennelly has taken on Jaws with the same intensity as her male counterparts, proving her skill and tenacity in some of the heaviest conditions.