Maui Surf

Maui’s Walsh Unveils Red Bull Jaws: Paddle at Pe’ahi

December 3, 2012, 6:20 AM HST
* Updated December 3, 10:32 AM
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Maui’s Ian Walsh at Jaws earlier this year. Photo by Fred Pompermayer/Red Bull Media House

By Rodney S. Yap

After two years of planning, the inaugural Red Bull Jaws: Paddle at Pe’ahi is a reality.

The brainchild of Maui surfer Ian Walsh, Pe’ahi’s resident test pilot, 20 intrepid big-wave surfers from around the world have been chosen to take on the menacing Hawaiian reef break known as Jaws on Maui’s north shore.

“Your natural instinct is panic as this gigantic wave is coming at you,” says Walsh, a Paia resident who is sponsored by Red Bull. “With what’s happening in the paddling movement within big waves, and Jaws being one of the most progressive big wave spots in the world, it seemed like a pretty good fit.”

A hot spot for gigantic deep-water swells out of the northwest Pacific, the violence and magnitude of Jaws is unmatched in the sport of surfing. Once considered beyond the realm of paddle-in surfing, modern technology, equipment design and imagination have caught pace with a bold crew of big wave explorers who are driven to blur the boundaries.


When just the right northerly swell combines with just the right atmospheric conditions and produces a day of monstrous 30- to 50-foot surf, the Red Bull Jaws: Paddle at Peahi event will be on.


The official holding period for the one-day event is between Dec. 7 and March 15, 2013.

Surfing’s big wave roots run deep in Hawaii and some of the most experienced and elite watermen in the world are confirmed invitees, and 14 others are confirmed alternates.

Shane Dorian, 40, paddled into this killer ride at Jaws in October. Photo by Mike Neal/Billabong XXL.

Joining the 29-year-old Walsh are 21-year-old Maui residents Albee Layer and Shaun Walsh. The others are Dave Wassell, Jeff Rowley, John John Florence, Kala Alexander, Carlos Burle, Grant “Twig” Baker, Greg Long, Jamie O’Brien, Makoa Rothman, Danilo Couto, Garrett McNamara, Kohl Christensen, Mark Healey, Nate Fletcher, Bruce Irons, Kelly Slater, and Shane Dorian.


The confirmed alternates are #1 Francisco Porcella, #2 Aaron Gold, #3 Billy Kemper, #4 DK Walsh, #5 Marcio Freire, #6 Reed McIntosh, #7 Kai Lenny, #8 Gabe Villaran, #9 Tyler Larronde, #10 Matt Meola, #11 Yuri Soledade, #12 Mark Mathews, #13 Nakoa Decoite, and #14 Ben Wilkinson.

“You need a really good understanding of the ocean and a lifetime of surfing. A lifetime of ocean knowledge is pretty much the key,” said Walsh, who has been surfing Jaws since he was 17. “You have to be able to anticipate and understand everything that’s happening in milliseconds.”

“Jaws is the premier big-wave spot in the world and has the potential to be bigger than anywhere and still rideable; that takes a certain amount of knowledge and experience,” said Red Bull Jaws contest director Mike Parsons.

Up until several years ago Jaws was considered by most to be too big to paddle into, and up until then just about any surfing that took place there was aided by the power of jet skis. These days, however, it’s a brave new world. Paddling into waves under one’s own strength has become the benchmark by which all heroic rides at Jaws are measured.

“The main difference is that when you’re paddling you’re sitting in harm’s way, whereas when you’re towing you’re out the back and can move a lot quicker on the ski. When you’re paddling at Jaws you’re going to get caught inside, and that is the heaviest factor,” explains Parsons. “I still think there are probably one or two days a year that it’s too big to paddle.”

With Red Bull behind him, Walsh is determined to bring the Jaws’ experience to non-surfers and other fans of the sport.

“I want people to have a glimpse into what it is that’s really happening out there,” he said. “To me it’s the greatest show on earth, seeing what my friends are doing in that lineup. If I can show people around the world what is actually happening in those sessions, what we’re actually doing and how we’re doing it, that’s what I want people to take away from this.”

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