On Maui there is a surf spot reserved for the world’s most experienced surfers. Known as “Jaws” internationally, and “Peahi” to locals, this particular surf break on Maui’s north shore produces the world’s largest waves (50 – 60ft), and its whereabouts have, to this day, remained a secret kept by locals and surfers.
The secret, however, is getting out and more and more surfers have been coming to Jaws over the last decade. The remote island break has ballooned into an oceanic parking lot of jet skis, surfers, filming boats, and helicopters (which most locals agree is a travesty). With all the chaos in the water and surf publications from around the world covering the “big days,” tourists are beginning to flock here as well, often asking locals how to get to this surf spot. (“Forget the snorkel cruise to Molokini, we want to see that one beach that has the biggest waves in the world.”)
What tourists don’t understand is that this particular surf break lies dormant about 355 days a year, but during huge winter swells (for some reason always around Christmas day) enormous mountains of water will come rolling in. Readings from numerous offshore buoys located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean will give surfers a one- or two-day notice that giant waves are brewing. The world’s top big-wave surfers then board planes and make their way to the secluded island of Maui, and locals in the know begin to chatter about Jaws “going off.”
The scene at Peahi on a day when waves are 40 feet plus is ineffable. Pedestrians crowd a narrow cliff top for the best view; jet skis and small boats litter the ocean down below helicopters buzz past you; and a constant mist fills the air as giant walls of water come crashing down every minute. It’s been said that, as each epic wave crashes, visitors can actually feel their impact as they stand atop the surrounding cliffs.
The exact location of this surf spot in Paia is not freely shared with tourists, so out of respect of tradition (and to ensure this spot remains “up-and-coming”) we too will keep our mouth shut. If you are dead set on finding the beach, however, we will say that an off-road vehicle is an absolute must, considering you must traverse private property owned by a pineapple plantation.
The last time we visited Peahi, we hitchhiked to the final lookout in the back of a pickup. But today, large obstacles and burned-out cars have been placed along the access road to block as much traffic as possible. A motorcycle or long walk may be your only option these days.
The problem at Peahi is that it has grown so much in popularity that amateur surfers are starting to flock to the break for a shot at 15 minutes of fame. Local surfing legend Laird Hamilton was recently quoted in magazines and surf publications, demanding restrictions on the amount of surfers that can be in the water on big days. He claims that the crowds of jet skis and novice surfers are beginning to make Jaws even more dangerous than it already is.
If you ever get the chance to see Jaws on a day when the waves are hitting, you should drop all commitments and head to the north shore — just stay out of the water! You will never forget the experience. Until then, enjoy the video below!
[Video source: panamajenn – youtube]