Jaws: Open Season

Mark the date on your calendar: Nov. 26, 2002, the day that the face of big-wave surfing changed forever. Not that the widespread advent of tow-in surfing hasn’t already blown up the blue water paradigm, providing, over the past six years, the sports singularly mind-blowing moments. Bradshaw at outside Log Cabins, Laird at Teahupoo, Parsons at Cortes Bank: all remarkable individual moments. But on this particular big day in November, tow-in surfings true potential was realized on a giant scale, when not just one or two but almost a dozen of the worlds top surfers and PWC drivers converged on Peahi, on the island of Maui, for what onlookers and participants alike are calling the greatest big-wave session in history.

Maybe its the increased mobility inherent in the jet sleds use, but more and more surfers these days seem ready to jump on a plane and chase down really big waves. When the word went out over the coconut wireless and the Internet, with its myriad wave-scale sites that a booming, long-period northwest swell was tracking into the Hawaiian wave window, big-wave ridings new protocol was made obvious. Rather than sit with the pack at Waimea Bay, the cream of the crop revved up their skis, tightened their flotation vests and flew to Maui. But whereas in years past the scene of this mass migration was Honolua Bay, today’s hellmen are intent on bigger game, and converge a few miles to the east of H Bay and the gnashing reef break of Peahi.

“When we got there that morning we just couldn’t believe it,” says Mike Parsons, whos taking advantage of his role as Top Gun on the Billabong Odyssey Expedition to traverse the globe on a moments notice whenever the buoys light up. “It was offshore and just perfect. So perfect, we couldn’t really tell how big it was.”

Parsons wasnt alone in that assessment. The worlds top tow-in squads from Hawaii, California, Australia and Brazil quickly swarmed the line-up, whipping each other into a frenzy of adrenaline. Parsons, Brad Gerlach, Ross Clarke-Jones, Cheyne Horan, Carlos Burle, Garrett McNamara and Makua Rothman joined a hard-core Peahi crew including Dave Kalama, Darrick Doerner and “Mango” Manny. And then there was tow-ins Team of the Titans. Between waves of his own, Laird Hamilton dragged Kelly Slater into the grinding peaks whose smaller sets averaged 40 feet; the big bombs easily tickled the 60-foot mark.


A crew of tow-in hellmen rode massive Peahi during the last week of November. Check these video clips to see the heavy action.

“It was the most incredible thing I ‘ve ever witnessed,” claims Odyssey director Bill Sharp, who watched all the action from a vantage point low on Peah is fearsome lava-rock shore. “All those guys in the water at once. There was Makua Rothman on a huge wave, probably the biggest ridden that day, but then before you could process that image, here’s Ross Clark-Jones pulling into an amazing barrel, and almost making it.”