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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Pete Cabrinha on Jaws, Maui
Pete Cabrinha catching the 74-footer which earned him the 2004 Billabong XXL Award. Photo by Erik Aeder

From Paddle-In to Pick-Up

Three surfers recount what it’s like to tackle Jaws, from dropping in to wiping out to defying death in the depths.

The Paddle-in

“Dropping into a really big wave, I have that little moment of appreciation where everything else melts away. One of the best moments [on Jaws] was getting into that giant barrel for the first time. Just being inside this huge wave, what felt like a cave, my mind was racing so fast, yet I perceived time as moving slow, like, standing still. It was only a couple seconds in the barrel, but it felt like minutes and that gave me this adrenaline rush I have never felt anywhere else.” — Kai Lenny

“A lot of the memories I have [of Jaws] are seared in my brain. Certain things in life you kind of forget about or have a vague recollection of them, but there is a handful of waves I caught out there that I have this imprint of, and I can go back there and relive those in pretty fine detail. The wave I caught at the Billabong XXL to win it is one of those.” — Pete Cabrinha

The Wipe Out

“I have had really big waves where you get sucked over the falls and think it is going to be the worst wipeout of your life, but it just pushes you down deep and out the back. Then you get others where it ragdolls you to the point where you feel like your arms and your legs are going to get torn off.” — Robby Naish

“Have you ever seen a dog grab a stuffed toy and shake it back and forth? Basically, you are that stuffed toy. And that is not an exaggeration. You get flipped and spun and are out of control. For example, one day we were practicing these different techniques and I said, okay the next time I wipe out I am going to bring all my limbs in and tuck into a ball and let the energy pass through me and around me. But it’s impossible. You can’t. [The wave] rips your arms away from you and your limbs away from you — it’s so incredibly strong.” — Pete Cabrinha

“Some of the worst wipeouts don’t look visually crazy on camera, but last year alone I sliced my hand in half, blew out my MCL, dislocated and broke my big toe and sliced my foot in half. I have had many concussions just because of the compression of the wave. But it comes with the territory. I don’t even think about it. And a lot of those injuries could have happened in smaller waves as well.” — Kai Lenny

Into the Soup

“Half the game is in your head. If you eat it really bad, you’re talking to yourself the whole time underwater. Talking yourself through it. You’re mostly saying, I got this. I got this. Just relax. Because if you’re saying, oh no this isn’t good, you start to panic and deplete your oxygen and things go bad quickly. There are only about 20 seconds between waves, so you have to go with it for about five or 10 seconds then make some physical effort to get to the surface and take a breath and hopefully get rescued. If not, you take a few breaths and go back down before the next one is on you.” — Pete Cabrinha

“I was windsurfing at Jaws and fell on a wave on the north peak, and was swimming and diving under whitewater, diving under whitewater, working my way to the channel. And even though there were Jet Skis and photographers and stuff around nobody came to grab me. Not that it is anybody’s responsibility — you’re out there on your own. But I took like five on the head and was right next to the channel when a big, wide, west wave came, and I got annihilated. It held me down and I got stuck in that underwater river that pulls along the channel and it wouldn’t let me up. I surfaced at a point when I thought I was going to be able to get a breath, but it was all whitewater. Then I took another one on the head and had to go down again. I was close to panicking and was about to try to take a breath into the foam of my vest — this predates inflatable vests, mind you — and was basically seeing stars. Luckily, I was able to hold out a tiny bit longer and come up and finally take a breath. I was probably only underwater for 30 seconds, but it seems like an eternity when you’re getting thrashed. That was the only time in all my years [surfing] I thought I might drown. — Robby Naish

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