Clean Getaway

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Story by Kyle Ellison | Photography by Bob Bangerter

big wave surfing maui
These riderless boards are a poignant reminder why the surf break at Peʻahi, on Maui’s north shore, is called “Jaws.”

You might think these surfers on Maui’s north shore are lucky to be alive — but it’s preparation, rather than luck, that keeps big-wave surfers paddling. Maui’s own Ian Walsh is a big-wave pioneer, and his training regimen reads like something you’d expect of Seal Team Six: Yoga sit ups, lateral plank holds, eccentric hanging leg tucks . . . followed by two hours of surfing and thirty-five miles on the bike.

Since a wave of this size can literally pin surfers to the ocean floor — where air, light, and sense of direction instantly disappear — such intense training is paramount to survival when a cleanup set rolls in. (That’s surf lingo for waves that break much larger and farther out, catching surfers inside and off guard.) According to Ian, it’s just as important to train for the wipeouts as it is to train for the waves. Which is why, when gale-force winter storms on the International Date Line send fifty-foot surf to Pe‘ahi, Maui’s cadre of big-wave surfers are prepared to test their luck.

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