In a nutshell: The biggest wave surfed in the world each year has been at Pe’ahi more than any other place.
Minuses: The access road can be 4WD
Sound-bite: [crashing waves, cheers and helicopters]
Disclaimer on the rating:
Pe’ahi is only “must-see spectacular” when the North Shore is having monster surf (look for high surf warnings.)
Pe’ahi is Maui’s biggest surfing break, and the yearly Billabong XXL Global Big Wave contest has listed Jaws as the winning break more than any other place. When Jaws is going off, the top names in surfing flock here – and mere mortals follow to watch in awe.
What is Tow-in Surfing?
Tow-in surfing is when the waves are so large that the only way a surfer can get in to them (in one piece, anyway) is to be skillfully towed in, and dropped off, via Jet Ski. In recent years surfers have started paddling in to this break that was previously only attempted as a tow-in.
“Jaws” is certainly the most well known, and also the most geographically specific name for the surf break. The name “Pe’ahi” has become more popular with surfers trying to draw connection with local culture as of late – so it is now common to hear that name used as well. (Pe’ahi is actually the name of the much larger ahupua'a.) If two names weren’t enough, according to Kupuna Leslie Kuloloio, the traditional Hawaiian name for this spot is “Ke Kai ‘o Waitakulu”, which he translates as “The Teary Eye.”
The Bad News
Before you add this to your must-do list for your Maui vacation, here is the bad news: chances are you won’t be able to. Most years there are just a few big-wave events with the perfect conditions for surfing Jaws. So, you’re going to need some luck with timing!
If you are lucky enough to see this in person, you’re sure to appreciate the magnitude of these feats of athleticism. (Check out the You Tube video below for better perspective of how big these waves actually are.)
How to Know if Jaws is Going Off
Check out the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System (PacIOOS) live wave observation charts here.
The Pe’ahi Lookout
The lookout on the Peahi cliffs above the break are the best vantage points outside of a boat or helicopter. As far as driving to the overlook goes, the best route is shown in the Google Map below. This 1.5 mile dirt road currently is graded to a point that cars that aren’t especially low can get in or out when it is dry. That said, it can rain suddenly on the North Shore, and what looks like a sunny beautiful day can be sprinkled with sudden downpours turning the steeper parts of the road to a surface that’s as slick as ice. Depending on what you’re driving, you could get stuck and need assistance. There are a few places you can park off to the side of the road (be sure not to block access roads), so if walking 3 miles round-trip is not an option, you can drive in as far as you feel comfortable given the current conditions, and opt to walk the rest of the way.
View Jaws in a larger map