A legendary surf break on Maui’s north shore, Peahi (also referred to as Jaws) is revered for its gigantic swells, which can reach up to 60 feet in height. A 30-foot-tall underwater ridge creates the shape of this fast, powerful wave. Although the conditions at this fabled spot make the water itself off-limits to all but the world’s most expert surfers, many visitors and locals enjoy the opportunity to spectate by land.
Three local surfers dubbed the area “Jaws” in 1975, comparing its huge rapid-onset swell to the suddenness of a shark attack. During the months of December through March, when the waves are at their biggest, elite surfers from all over the world are drawn to Peahi (which in Hawaiian means “to beckon”).
History of Surfing at Jaws
In the 1990s, surfers started to enter the break zone at Jaws by having Jet Skis tow them into the lineup. Once South African surfer Chris Bertish successfully paddled into the swell there in 2001, though, a new era began. By January 2016, Hawaiian Aaron Gold had broken the world record for largest paddle-in wave ever surfed, a 63-footer at Jaws.
The Peahi Challenge is now held annually for those skilled and brave enough to participate. As a testament to Jaws’ unique place in the surfing world, daredevils who visit this spot frequently appear as nominees in the World Surf League’s Big Wave Awards. Due to its merciless unpredictability, most who venture out wear an inflatable safety suit, and many have friends on Jet Skis standing by to rescue them.
How to See It
Situated three miles east of the town of Paia, Jaws can be viewed from the cliffs above, at the Peahi Lookout. A dirt road that begins between Hana Highway mile markers 13 and 14 extends 1.5 miles north to the lookout. The unpaved entry can be treacherous in wet conditions, especially for low-to-the-ground vehicles. For those able to see the spectacle of Jaws in person, though, the experience is well worth the effort.