TAG Heuer‘s current tag line is “Don’t Crack Under Pressure.” And with their sponsorship of the World Surf League’s Big Wave contests and Hawaii surfer Kai Lenny, it really rings true. On December 6th, the waves at Pe’ahi (aka Jaws) on the north shore of Maui, Hawaii, were 65ft high and the first ever WSL Pe’ahi Challenge 2015 was on. Big wave contests like this (and the Eddie Aikau on the north shore of O’ahu) are usually conducted in a single day within the open contest period.
Pe’ahi is known to surfers as “Jaws” – so named as the break can close in from both sides of the deep channel that was carved by a stream where it empties into the Pacific. And because, as local surfer Kai Lenny puts it, “Jaws can bite you.” The waves at Pe’ahi/Jaws don’t even break until the face heights get over 12 feet. On an average day, you just see rolling swells and would not know this is one of the handful of truly big wave super-sites in the world.
Access to the site is not easy. There is a limited amount of cleared land (on private property) down a 1.5-mile dirt road from the Hana Highway for the contest organizers and the strictly limited number of guests – each surfer can only have 2 family members at the cliff site. And the surfers themselves motor up to the site from Kahalui harbor about 13 miles away on support boats and jet skis and take position to the west just before the massive break. But this is not a “tow-in” big wave contest. No, the surfers have to paddle over to the waves and position themselves to catch the 6-story monsters on their own and hope they don’t go “over the falls” and become a fatality. They use high-tech on-demand inflatable vests, but as Kai Lenny told us, it’s quite a sight to be underneath a giant wave and looking up at 65ft of water over your head (as you hold your breath and try to swim to the surface).
The pressure is both mental and physical for the surfer, and literally a lot of pressure on a watch. TAG Heuer-sponsored surfer Kai Lenny wears a bog standard TAG Heuer Aquaracer 300M watch even while catching some of the largest rideable waves in the world. He says that as he looks down the wave with his left arm extended, his watch gives him an aiming point. He uses his watch at Jaws to time the heats (nominally an hour each).
Kai has been surfing professionally for over 10 years, yet he is just 23 years old. He is an all-around athlete who’s sports include surfing, stand-up paddle (SUP) surfing (for which he is a world champion), tow-in surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, and skateboarding (he has his own half-pipe in his backyard).
So instead, I took photos of my fellow travelers and swam in the warm waters of Lahaina Roads (the part of the Pacific between Maui, Lanai, and Molokai) with a TAG Heuer Aquaracer 300M on my wrist. Humpback whales were just starting to return to Lahaina Roads when we were there. It is a favored birthing area for Humpbacks who trek down from Alaskan feeding waters each winter.