Jaws: interesting facts about Maui's big wave surfing break

January 14, 2020 | Surfing
Jaws: probably the largest, heaviest and fastest wave breaking in the Pacific Ocean | Photo: Hallman/WSL

It is simultaneously a terrifying and exhilarating experience. Are you ready to get swallowed up by the skyscraper-sized waves of Jaws/Peahi?

Jaws is probably the largest, heaviest, and fastest wave of the Pacific Ocean.

When the extreme surf break shows its teeth, you hear the thunderous roar of the waves breaking over the deep-water reef.

Jaws, also known as Peahi, is Maui's most notorious surf spot and produces waves ranging between 30 and 80 feet.

Here, conditions change quickly. Subtle changes in swell size and direct can drastically transform the place from a peaceful surf zone into a death-defying arena in a short period of time.

Jaws: you don't want to end up in the impact zone | Photo: Fyans/Red Bull

Take a look at a few interesting facts about the famous Hawaiian big wave surfing spot:

1. Jaws is located off the North Shore of Maui, in Hawaii. The coordinates are 20.946401, -156.301415;

2. Jaws was named by surfers John Lemus, John Potterick and John Roberson, in 1975, after the Hollywood blockbuster "Jaws." They were the first to catch waves at Peahi;

3. In the early days, Pipeline Master Gerry Lopez called it "Domes";

4. In the 1980s, Dave Kalama, Mark Pedersen, and Brett Lickle followed the pioneers' footsteps and sailed Peahi on their windsurfing kits;

5. Jaws became one of the most famous waves in the world in the 1990s when Laird Hamilton and Kalama, alongside Darrick Doerner and Buzzy Kerbox - the "Strapped Crew" - and also Rush Randle, Pete Cabrinha, Mike Waltze, and Lickle "invented" tow-in surfing;

Laird Hamilton: a pioneer surfer at Jaws | Photo: Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton

6. Laird Hamilton was the first surfer to be towed into the Peahi wave by jet skis using a surfboard equipped with foot straps;

7. The expression "Pe'ahi" was also adopted as a way of honoring the local Hawaiian culture;

8. According to Native Hawaiian activist, Leslie Kuloloio, the traditional name for the big wave surfing break is Ke Kai 'o Waitakulu, which means "The Teary Eye";

9. Jaws has already been ridden by surfers, windsurfers, kitesurfers, bodyboarders, and stand-up paddleboarders;

10. Peahi is a submerged reef break that works on all tides;

11. Jaws is predominantly a right-hand barreling wave and works best with northern (NW-NE) swells and southeasterly (E-SE) winds;

12. For long left-hand riders, the swell should be arriving from the west;

13. The best time to surf or watch big wave breaking at Peahi is between early November and late March;

14. Jaws' nearest wave buoy (Station 51205) is located 15 miles off Haiku-Pauwela at coordinates 21.0195, -156.4272;

15. Jaws provided multiple winners for XXL awards in all divisions (Paddle In, Tow-In, Biggest Wave, Ride of the Year, Wipeout of the Year, Tube of the Year, etc.);

16. Peahi is an unpredictable beast. What might seem a perfect wave could very well morph into a monstrous closeout;

17. In 2001, Hamilton, Kalama, and Doerner served as stunt doubles for James Bond in the opening sequence of the film "Die Another Day." The action was shot at Jaws;

Peahi: Jamie Mitchell wipes out big time at Jaws | Photo: Miers/WSL

18. In the same year, South African big wave surfer, Chris Bertish, became the first athlete to paddle into a Jaws wave using arm power, only;

19. In the first couple of decades of the 21st century, Jaws shifted from a tow-in arena to a challenging paddle-in big wave surf spot;

20. Peahi's hazards include strong offshore wind and choppy bumps that occasionally interfere with the surfer's ride;

21. Going left at Jaws will either give you the best ride of your life or the worst ride of your life;

22. Getting caught inside at Jaws is one of the surfers' worst nightmares, as they might very well be dragged toward the rocky cliffs;

23. To access Maui's big wave surfing break, you may launch via Maliko Gulch, or paddle directly to the lineup via Hahana Road off Hana Highway;

Jaws: the view from the channel | Photo: Noyle/Red Bull

24. If you don't own a boat or a jet ski, the best wave to witness surfers taking on the giant mountain of water is by standing at the lookout located on the Peahi cliffs;

25. Are you a spectator? Bring a pair of binoculars and a camera with a telephoto lens to observe and capture all the action;

26. On January 20, 2011, Mark Visser became the first surfer to ride Jaws at night. He used a special board, and life vest equipped with submarine LED lighting technology. The Australian rode 12 waves under the moonlight;

27. Chuck Patterson was the first athlete to take on the massive waves of Jaws using a pair of skis;

28. Are you ready to surf Peahi? Grab 10'6'' x 21'3/4'' x 2'3/4'' surfboard;

29. On the big days, you've got to be patient - analyze the waves' behavior carefully, wait for your turn, and commit to the one you've picked;

30. Once you've dropped into your wave, aim towards the west bowl hold a straight line;

31. A wipeout at Jaws is violent, the lip is heavy and thick, but won't hold you down for a long time like in other big wave surfing breaks;

Keala Kennelly: dropping into the abyss at Jaws | Photo: WSL

32. Jaws is not a men's only extreme surfing spot. Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms, Andrea Moller are some of the most experienced women riding Peahi on big days;

33. Despite some close calls and serious injuries, no one has ever died surfing Peahi;

34. According to veteran swell hunters, the warm water temperature (which reduces panic levels) and inflatable life vests make it less life-threatening;

35. In December 2015, Jesse Richman made history in kitesurfing after getting barreled at Jaws;

36. Kai Lenny, Jason Polakow, Camille Juban, Robby Naish, Levi Siver, Robby Swift, and Marcilio Browne have delivered the most spectacular big wave windsurfing performances at Jaws;

Jason Polakow: windsurfers were among the first to ride the waves at Jaws | Photo: Hepp / Red Bull

37. No windsurfer has quite got fully barreled at Peahi. Nevertheless, Josh Angulo, Robby Naish, and Lenny have come close many times, and may have been slightly covered by the wave's lip;

38. "Riding Giants," "Step Into Liquid," "Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton," and "Mad Dogs" are four films that portray the infamous Maui surf break at its best;

39. In January 22, 2015, 65-year-old surfer Gary Linden dropped into a big wave at Jaws;

40. On February 11, 2016, Landon McNamara missed the take-off, but managed to continue bodysurfing down the face of a giant wave at Jaws; 

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