If you were hiding in a rabbit hole during the last ten days then you may have missed the first Hawaiian XXL swell of the season coinciding with the start of the PWA Aloha Classic.
The waves were monstrous and the PWA pros were all in town, it's like fate would not only provide an epic finale to the PWA World Tour but also offer up the goods for those keen enough to take on this the world famous wave. So who would step up to the plate and go guns blazing down the face of this triple mast high bomb.
We caught up with Si Crowther (photographer on scene) and Kai Katchadourian (words) to find out more.
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The wave has existed ever since the island of Maui rose from the depths of the Pacific Ocean thousands of years ago. The Peah'i valley cuts directly into the North Pacific and the river that flows thru it cuts a channel which defines the line that one must cross if you wish to venture out to the realm where the World's most legendary wave breaks on only the largest Winter Swell. I was a junior in St Anthony High School when my biology teacher, also a surfer and windsurfer, showed my class a picture of the wave breaking at 35ft.
My entire being froze instantly. "Domes" he said, "Jaws is also a name for it, its out in Haiku past Hookipa, and its only been attempted a few times. It might be the heaviest wave on the planet" What an awesome Biology teacher Dan Schulte was!!
For the record, the wave is called Peah'i. It is known worldwide as Jaws, and that name has certainly been justified by the numerous heroic rides and terrifying situations the wave produces. It is stated in Hawaiian history that Peah'i valley was a sacred proving ground, and that only the most esteemed warriors were allowed to prove their honor and valor by challenging the break in whatever craft they could. Surely there were many humbling encounters, one would think.
The wave exists due to a large seamount that sits atop the deep channel that flows out of Peah'i valley. Due to its depth, it only begins to break when the swell is over 8 feet of open ocean of groundswell. Certain swell directions are better than others. It is one of the wonders of the World when it is 20 feet plus. A wave unto its own unlike any other. Wide open to East Winds. Wide open. To gaze into the gaping Jaws of Peah'i from the channel is an experience that electrifies the soul and changes your perceptions altogether.
To ride the wave itself? I'll attempt to describe this most recent session below, to explain the wonder of the one and only Jaws of Peah'i.
October 27 was a combination of influences weather wise. Maui was square in the path of a quickly increasing NNW swell and NE winds. A High Surf Warning had been issued across the State of Hawaii. This opened up a lot of options island-wide with Hookipa quickly turned into a spin cycle of horrifying confusion and fury.
There were people beginning to scatter to different breaks on the island, so by the time I was on the cliff at Peah'i watching Kai Lenny begin his session it was finally time to buckle down and get the ski ready to head up. After making the call, our crew assembled.
My crew consisted of Francisco Porcella, and Sarah Hauser, and myself. Sarah was up for her second session there, having come up the last time that it happened with size.
Francisco was keen to drop some bombs, that is nothing new with his numerous XXL nominations and huge moments out there over the years.
I was very keen to test out my new Jaws board, shaped by Ola Helenious. Finally Red Peahi 83 had its moment !! It was finally going to drop into the wave it was designed for.
We loaded the ski and headed up. Upon arrival, we saw a good crew had arrived, not necessarily crowded, but a good crew. Joining Lenny was Polakow, Swift, Castorina, Bouvet, Jules Denel, and a few of the top kiters out there like Jessie Richman and Patry McLaughlin doing very well out there. Kevin Pritchard and Grahm Ezzy were also on the scene, doing great and feeling the vibe being out there in such amazing conditions.
We had seen Thomas Traversa and Camille Juban try to launch from Maliko on their rigs, at one point Thomas looked like he got cleaned outside the gulch.
I kept looking out to sea and hoped for the best, rigged my Simmer Blacktip 5.3 and set out to catch the biggest wave I could possibly find.
That did not take long, my mobility was off the charts, the board doing exactly what I asked when Ola designed it. Top speed, and a glide that was exceptional. This was it.
Kai Lenny and I were the furthest out, and he greeted "Hi Kai !!" "whats up Kai?" I returned.
A GIANT set was looming on the horizon. Kai made his move on the second one, operating on a very instinctual level, we understood there was no room for gangsta style hassling.
I chose the third one, and it was the biggest wave in the set...
My board immediately got up to speed and I was on it. Board speed is the vital element for riding this wave effectively. Once you know you have the wave, you fight to keep it with all your speed.
I felt like I was riding a Cadillac on a one way street right into the biggest wave on the planet, and it was a smooth ride on a fine paved road.
Kai disappeared dropping into the wave in front. 100 feet of spray flew up as the wave broke, and I was next. As the wave hits the shelf, it slows, and grows. And grows. This process leads to the inevitable moment when the wave itself breaks. My first wave was at least close to as big as any I have ridden out there, and as I set my bottom turn, managed to look up at the lip as it was throwing. That vision, the absolutely terrifying yet beautiful vision, was like riding a moving skyscraper with a perfectly paved road under it. The most important bottom turn you will ever make, yet also a moment of clarity and peace as you feel and hear the wave detonate behind you. I kicked out after negotiating my ride and it was a great moment. My friends in the channel arms raised in tribute to the power of the ocean and this sacred break. Sweet!!
As the session continued, it was equal parts terror and joy as we all took turns watching and riding these moving mountains. A few of the waves were approaching triple mast high.
Thomas and Camille appeared and they were straight away in the mix despite their somewhat ill-advised route of sailing up for over an hour. Their result was the best case scenario, and we all watch out for one another that is rule #1. The aspect of safety is why we have people on jet skis and running safety. It takes one person getting into trouble and it can affect everyone in the lineup. Several others foolishly tried the launch under the cliff. Peah'i laughed at them. Nobody made it. Not even close. A huge price was paid by all and the same old lessons were learned. Luckily nobody was hurt.
Out on the water, things started to get a bit heated, Polakow dropped in on Kai Lenny a few times, as Jason seemed to be a bit flustered in his wave selection.
Maybe he needed a better board or something as he sails excellently up there, but maybe not so much this day. Jason left early.
Manu Bouvet dropped into a wave he wished he had not, took the wrong low line, and got simply erased. Luckily he was unscathed. Rudy Castorina caught a few beauties and ended up going for a big turn and blew up his rig. KP and Graham did the Ezzy team proud with some beautiful lines. Swifty also very active and stylish in critical situations.
Sarah Hauser was clearly getting more and more comfortable in the truly massive situation, caught some of the biggest waves of her life far and rode them like a champ. Having had my fill and some absolute screamers in my pocket, I handed my rig to Porcella who had not windsurfed in a while. He showed his true waterman skills as he caught some beautiful rides, as the sun began to set. KP did have a ski issue and had to be towed back, but as we ended the day and headed home, the reality set in that it was one of the best days of our lives and the adrenaline began to set in. It is such a massive rush riding this wave, and being a part of that experience reminded me of the days I first went up. Peah'i and its mysteries always beckon those who are prepared to match the intensity and blend in with its power. The important lesson is to be aware of the fineline behind managing risk.
We all have the desire to push our boundaries. Its important to remember that safety is the number one priority.
Peah'i beckons us from an ancient time, and the wave and spirit of the valley remind us who and what are ultimately in control.
Aloha from Maui, until the next epic mission !!
Kai Katchadourian - US 33 - aka Flykatcher