The Epic Maui Surf Break called ‘Jaws’

Apr 30, 2022 | General Information

The legendary surfing nirvana on the north shore of Maui, 3 miles east of Paia, received its suitably scary nickname from three surfers in 1975. The nickname came from the film “Jaws” and the unpredictability of a shark attack. Frankly, considering the size and ferocity of the swells at Jaws, it’s surprising that surfers didn’t coin a similar name years earlier, except that in the old days very few surfers were even willing to make the attempt to ride it. But for good reasons, the name “Jaws” stuck. It was a perfect name to describe swells that, especially in December-March, can quickly reach and exceed 50-feet.

The name of this dangerous surf break in the Hawaiian language is “Peahi” – which means “beckon.” And “Jaws” has beckoned many of the most talented big wave and wind surfing stars from around the world. The consensus of surfing stars is that “Jaws” is different than any other wave in the world. The speed that it travels and barrels into shore is amazing. The swell has been compared to a mountain or huge wall of water. Making a “bottom turn” on the wave – (the first turn a surfer makes) – produces special thrills for riding the rest of the wave.

Jaws has been photographed countless times and appeared in films that increased its fame and popularity. Some big wave surfers began using tow-in surfing at “Jaws” with a jet ski. Among them were Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama who did stunt doubles for James Bond in the opening sequence of the film Die Another Day which filmed at Jaws. Other international big wave surfers have engaged in paddle-surfing at Jaws. Surfing and paddle-surfing contests at Jaws have had huge amounts of publicity.

For visitors, the lookout on the Peahi cliffs above the break is the best vantage point other than a boat or a helicopter. But Peahi is reached by a dirt road that can be a big problem when it rains. And it can rain suddenly on Maui’s north shore. Walking up Peahi is a 3-mile round trip. The safest way to ascend Peahi is driving only as far as it looks safe. Park roadside and walk the rest of the way.

Most important to know, it will be a rare event for both surfers and visitors to have the perfect mix of conditions that produce a sensational “Jaws” break. That usually happens only about 5 to 8 days a year and it takes winter storms happening thousands of miles away in the North Pacific. These storms push the ocean’s surface with hurricane force winds. Swells travel outward until they reach land. Ocean swells approaching Hawaii cross the deepest regions of the Pacific and then, very abruptly, push upward against Maui’s shallow northern shore and in the case of the underwater topography surrounding ‘Jaws’ they produce gigantic waves of epic proportion.