The Big Ones Break in Maui

By: Kyle Van Pelt

On December 12 at 7:30 AM Hawaii time, the Jaws Big Wave Tournament began. Surfers faced a gargantuan swell with 40 foot plus waves at Maui’s infamous Pe’ahi break. Hawaii natives Billy Kemper and Paige Alms won the tournament by demonstrating impeccable skills and avoiding potentially lethal wipeouts. 

Big Wave tournaments such as the one at Pe’ahi only invite the greatest surfers in the world as waves less than a quarter the size of these frequently drown amateur surfers. Requirements include proven experience in similar size swells and the ability for one to hold their breath for over 5 minutes. Surfers must also be skilled in duck diving, a way to protect your body while wiping out. This requirement is important as physicists predict a 30 foot wave applies nearly 410 tons of force to a person caught in the break and drives them deep enough underwater to burst their eardrums and break bones before they even impact the seafloor. Surfers and waves alike are always the elite at Big Wave tournaments. 

As such tournaments often are, Pe’ahi was a wipeout-fest. With surfers essentially unable to attain perfect scores in such harsh conditions, every time someone caught a wave they did nothing but try to stay up. Both Alms and Kemper managed to out-last their competition as neither had particularly high scoring days–in comparison to more standard competitions–yet they were still clear winners. Regardless of placement, all surfers were accomplished merely by being allowed to participate in the competition and all got to experience what is undoubtedly one of the most extreme adrenaline-rush experiences on Earth. 


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