Pe’ahi — more commonly referred to as “Jaws” — is a legendary surf break located on the northern shore of the island of Maui, Hawaii, revered for its gigantic waves and respected for its merciless unpredictability. The traditional Hawaiian name for the spot is “The Teary Eye” — “Ke Kai ‘o Waitakulu” — and rightfully so. Jaw Beach Maui boasts one of the most idolized big-wave surf spots in the world, but dangerous elemental conditions make the water off-limits to all but the most expert surfers.
Location, Location, Location
Perfect swells originating from an Alaskan Aleutian island chain undulate across the Pacific ocean towards the shore completely unhindered by land masses and reaching speeds up to thirty miles per hour. A well-developed reef is responsible for the clean shaping and barreling of monstrous right and lefthand waves, often exceeding seventy feet in height. In 1975 three local surfers dubbed the surf Jaws after the popular film, the appropriate nomenclature comparing the rapidly changing elements to the vulnerability of a shark attack.
History of Hawaii Surfing
The best time to surf at Jaws is during the winter months from December until March when the waves reach their highest point. The most common form of entry into the break zone is via watercraft launched from nearby docks such as Māliko Bay. This tow-in form of big-wave surfing saves riders from having to climb treacherous rocky beachfront out into the water. Two big-wave experts Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama are associated with the development of this efficient method and originally made the break accessible to a wider realm of the sport’s participants. Chris Bertish claimed the first successful paddle-in surf attempt in 2001 and has since opened the doors to many more brave attempts at paddle-in surfing. Although the legendary location grows in popularity each year, its magnitude is not to be underestimated, and helicopters frequently rescue severely injured surfers. The annual Billabong XXL Global Big Wave contest historically regards Jaws as the winning surf break in the world.
Jaws is situated three miles east of the area of Pāʻia, the endpoint of the historic Hāna Highway that connects Kahului with the town of Hāna in eastern Maui. A dirt road originating between highway markers 13 and 14 extends 1.5 miles north to the beachfront. The unpaved entry makes for limited public access and no facilities accommodate brave beachgoers at the end of the road. Rapidly changing weather conditions can turn the seemingly dry access point into a slippery nightmare, having stranded many but the most equipped off-road vehicles. Other than by helicopter or boat, the best place for spectators to sightsee the surf break is from the Pe’ahi Lookout situated on the cliffs above.
The impressive spectacle that is Jaws at high surf and advancements in the sport’s technology are responsible for growing on-shore masses and overcrowding in the water, even with its limited accessibility. In recent years, these developments credit to an even more hazardous environment than ever before, where truly only the most expert surfers should dare to travel.