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Call Me Jaws Crazy! Pe’ahi, Maui

Description: Massive wave break on Maui’s North Shore.
Downside: Lots of spectators during peak times in the Winter.
How to Get There: Take Highway 36 (Hana Highway) about 3 three miles east of Pāʻia on Maui’s North Shore. From Hana Highway, turn onto Hahana Road between mile marker 13 and 14. After the paved road ends, it turns into a dirt road. From where the dirt road begins, it is about another 1.5 miles to the ocean. The lookout from the cliffs above Pe’ahi is the best place to view the wave break unless you are brave enough to venture out on a boat. Beware if it rains you may get your vehicle stuck so if you do not want to risk this, you can park and walk the 3 miles round trip.

Adventure Details:
Pe’ahi, aka Jaws, is Maui’s biggest surf break on the North Shore of the island. Every year, Billabong XXL holds the Pe’ahi Challenge here and has been the most winningest break in the world. During the peak winter season when the swells are the biggest, Jaws is going off, and you can find the best of the big wave surfers from around the world here.

Pe'ahi (Jaws) on a mild day

Pe’ahi (Jaws) on a mild day

Pe’ahi is one of the most famous surf breaks in the world alongside Nazare in Portugal. In the Hawaiian language, it means “wave,” as in a beckoning motion of the hand. Pe’ahi is also known as Jaws because of the liquid avalanche that ends at the foot of a 300-foot cliff that clutches the best big wave surfers in her jaws making water rescues difficult. During the winter months, these waves can reach upwards of 70 feet and travel at 30 miles per hour. This wave is not for the faint both in or off the water.

In the 1990’s, famous watermen Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama, introduced tow-in surfing as a means to reach the wave break. Tow-in surfing utilizes a Jet Ski to tow the surfer into the wave when there is no other way to reach the break. However, Pe’ahi surfers still bravely paddle into this wave while leveraging the Jet Ski water safety team when needed.

For those that know me, I have an insatiable quest to chase big wave swells around the world with Pe’ahi being one of the surf breaks on my Big Wave bucket list. Since Pe’ahi only breaks a few times a year, from December to March, I am Jaws crazy during this time hoping for a chance to time everything right. Timing is everything when you chase these swells from th3e actual forecasting of the swell, planning time off from work, buying a plane ticket, and finding a place to stay. I would need to be lucky to see this wave break.

Small sets developing at Pe'ahi (Jaws), Maui

Small sets developing at Pe’ahi (Jaws), Maui

This was my second trip to Jaws with the first visit a few December’s ago being flat. Jaws is only considered to be going off if the swells are bigger than 15 ft; otherwise don’t waste your time going. I was excited that I might have a chance to see Pe’ahi in all its’ beauty and power. So my dawn patrol efforts got me up early to head off to the other side of the island.

Road to Pe'ahi lookout, Maui

Road to Pe’ahi lookout, Maui

Once I arrived at the mile marker, I turned off of Hana Highway and headed down the dirt road in my trusty red jeep once again. It did not rain during the night, so it was clear driving ahead. Driving through the sugarcane fields felt like I was in the jungle with not a soul around anywhere. The sugarcane created a large green wall that I could not see over in any direction and built a road that is wide enough for only one vehicle at a time.

Tractor on one way road to Pe'ahi lookout, Maui

Tractor on one way road to Pe’ahi lookout, Maui

So with that in mind, I carefully navigated the road. Good thing I was cautious because just as I turned the corner, I encountered a Caterpillar tractor grading the road. This was challenging because, on this particular stretch of the road, there was not a section to pull off. So I had to back up for several hundred feet which felt like miles all along hoping I would not run into another vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Finally, I found a place to pull over and let the tractor by. He waved. I waved. All was good, and I was on my way again.

Pe'ahi lookout, Maui

Pe’ahi lookout, Maui

After several more turns, I saw the Pe’ahi lookout with only one other vehicle there. Jaws was marginal again today, and my timing had not been as accurate as I had thought. The swell was delayed coming in. However, I still had hopes that there would be a small break today.

Beautiful day at Pe'ahi, Maui

Beautiful day at Pe’ahi, Maui

I sat for hours on the hood of the Jeep waiting patiently. The sky was hazy, and the Pacific ocean was a mesmerizing blue with hints of white caps in the distance. I felt the cool breeze on my face while I closed my eyes to breathe in the salty air. I scouted the horizon left and right for a glimpse of whales, but found none. No waves. No whales. However, it did not matter because it was still another beautiful day at Pe’ahi. Even though she was calm today, she was still beautiful to admire.

Check out the World Surf League 2015 Pe’ahi Challenge Highlights here:
WSL 2015 Pe’ahi Challenge Highlights

Have you been to Pe’ahi? Comment below and let us know so we can Go! See! Learn!

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Michelle Rae

Michelle Rae

Michelle Rae is the creator of The Traveling Vixen, which captures her adventures around the world. Her passion is to inspire others to grow by experiencing and learning new things in the world.