Peahi, Maui, Hawaii - A "Big" Destination

A rolling landscape and magnificent views dominate the scenery in Peahi, Maui, one of Hawaii’s best kept secrets among those in sync with the surfing community and Hawaiian insiders “in the know”. There are always plenty of differing opinions and a fair amount of controversy when trying to determine the absolute best surf spot on the globe.

However, figuring out where the biggest and most challenging waves in the world are at is a much easier exercise. Most surfers agree the best big wave destination is Peahi, Maui. Peahi, also known as Jaws, is recognized around the world as the premier destination for huge waves that most surfers wouldn’t dare to actually make an attempt at riding. Waves can reach as high as seventy feet with almost unbelievably long tubes under the right conditions.

The Beauty and Power of Nature on Display in Peahi

The structure of the reef in Peahi is shaped just right so it creates and magnifies directional waves that are clean with larger than normal barreling and incredibly tall waves. Swells reach this popular surfing destination all the way from the north side of the Bering Sea, traveling through the Pacific Ocean and finally reaching Peahi with almost no land in between to soften the force. This means that very often the waves are not only big, they are fast as well reaching maximum speeds in excess of thirty miles per hour.

The nickname “Jaws” refers to the speed, size and danger of the ferocious waves in Peahi in a comparison to the shark in the movie “Jaws” released in 1975. Using a strict translation of the Hawaiian language, Peahi actually translates to the term “beckon” which is the destination’s Hawaiian name. Most people simply use the nickname Jaws as that tag refers to the waves that Peahi is best known for.

The best surfing happens during the winter time in Peahi, typically beginning in early November and running through March with only a few breaks each year. The giant breathtaking waves arrive every two to three years and create quite a stir. Large groups gather to watch the magnificent views and wait to see which, if any, surfers will take on the challenge of Jaws. It is not uncommon to see several helicopters filming these epic events from above along with every type of video recording equipment imaginable positioned on the beach, the cliff tops and anywhere else people think they can get a good view.

Peahi Tow - In Style

A small twist in the surfing style required in Peahi is the destination is known for tow-in surfing. This refers to a boat, Jet Ski or helicopter actually pulling a surfer inbound towards the beach and placing them in a strategic position to catch a wave. This technique was developed many years ago by a couple of famous surfers, Laird Hamilton and David Kalama.

They quickly realized the force of the tides and waves in Peahi made it at best impractical and most often impossible to use traditional paddling methods. After some experimentation they began using a speedboat to pull them in and get positioned to ride the huge waves of Jaws. The technique quickly caught on and became a common practice ever since.

There are some in the surfing community that are tightly bound to the traditional ways of surfing and do not have an appreciation for the tow-in technique. However, trying to battle the gigantic waves of Peahi without assistance to help get you started proves to be near impossible most of the time.

The way the surfing area is naturally designed does not provide much room for a large number of surfing enthusiasts and spectators. The actual beach area is extremely limited and most of the area is surrounded by cliffs that overlook the water and the area where the surfing is taking place.

When the waves begin to grow larger and show signs that a special time is soon to arrive in Peahi, the oceanfront area becomes packed with surfers and viewers alike. Too many spectators and particularly surfers without a great deal of experience can create dangerous situations. It is not uncommon to see walkways and pathways to the beach area blocked off by old automobiles and other large objects. These obstructions have been put in place by angry veteran surfers of Jaws and local landowners who do not appreciate the crowds and attention.

Peahi is not your typical tourist destination that is packed with five-star resorts and all kinds of shopping. Much of the land in the area was leased for many years by Maui Pineapple Company until they closed their doors and shut down the business just before 2010. Therefore, much of the area has not been developed and the land surrounding the surfing area, in particular, is all privately owned.

While it might not be a typical tourist type destination, if you have a bit of an adventurous spirit and can handle a little walking then it can be a site that should not be missed. This is particularly true if you happen to catch the right time of year and the right year for your visit. You just might get the chance to see some of the largest and most amazing waves the world has ever seen and along with it some very brave surfers.