Jaws: A Bite Out of History

Three surfers chronicle their encounters with one of the most infamous waves in the world — Jaws.

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“It’s intimidating. It’s a lot of water. Even after doing it for this long I still get nervous when I am out there, more and more so as I get older. Maybe it’s a self-preservation gene that comes in as you age, whether you like it or not.” Robby Naish

Though the area is now known by its original Hawaiian name, Peʻahi, popularity has given the hallowed spot a different vibe, one which smells of commerce and social media. “A lot of guys want to go there and get their picture taken at Jaws and post it online as quickly as possible,” says Naish. “It’s the showcase place, and what happens at Jaws is recorded in the morning and by afternoon it is going around the world.”

Indeed, on any given day when the surf’s up on the north shore, you’ll find dozens of people and watercraft bobbing around on the sea, waiting for the swells to amplify. Oftentimes there are helicopters circling and hundreds of spectators standing on the edge of the cliff waiting to see the best of the best catch the wave of their lives. Despite the media chaos, many local pros still ride Jaws on the reg, and on any given day you might see the Walsh brothers, Keala Kennelly or Kai Lenny catching a ride in the belly of the beast.

The progressive paddle-in trend still prevails, but tow-in surfing is currently enjoying a moment, due in no small part to Kai Lenny. “At one of the most high-profile events in the world, the [2018] Peʻahi Challenge, it got big and windy and gnarly and they put the contest on hold,” says Cabrinha. “Kai had his tow surfing gear with him and while all the cameras were rolling, the world watched live for about an hour as he put on a tow surfing clinic. That one session is now referred to as ‘The Kai Show.’”

Lenny is arguably one of the most skilled and well-heeled waterman in the world at present. A jack of all sports, Lenny rides what the day brings and stubbornly and successfully avoids being pigeonholed into a single sporting category.

“I was 16 years old when I first went to Jaws — and I was on a foil board,” he says. “I was invited by Laird [Hamilton] and Dave Kalama and it was a big day — not the biggest — but it opened up my campaign there. Ever since I have been going to Jaws every single season and doing every sport I possibly can out there.”

Untethered, Lenny is leading the charge of up and coming young athletes, some of who will hold him in the highest regard — much in the way Lenny himself did with the Strapped Crew — as a real-life superhero. Perhaps they, too, will refuse to be bullied into choosing a single water sport and will christen a whole new trend of all-watercraft-are-welcome in surfing circles.

“I have been a part of what I would say is the first generation of kids that really watched this place from a young age,” says Lenny. “Jaws was just in our lives from the moment we opened our eyes. I’ve been out there for about 12 years now and I am seeing the next generation begin to take heavy interest in coming out. Seeing them so young, training their hardest and looking up to people in the sport for mentorship — it’s very exciting.”

“I wasn’t inspired by comic books or superheroes … I was more inspired by these heroes I was seeing in front of me, these water sports athletes — Robby Nash, Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama. It was those individuals I looked up to because they were doing what everyone was saying was impossible, and I loved that.” — Kai Lenny

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