Facing Down Jaws

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The contest hadn’t started yet, but some of the competitors were already catching waves. And when I say “catching waves,” I mean they were staring death in the face as they veered down a forty- to sixty-foot wall of water. If they survived the drop, they had to turn and race out of the wave before it folded in half and tried to crush them.

I knew some of the competitors. Ian Walsh, who grew up riding Jaws and is sponsored by Red Bull. His younger brother, Shaun, who had the same advantage. Kai Lenny, a big-wave surfer, stand-up paddleboard champion, windsurfer, kite boarder, you name it. Billy Kemper, a Jaws regular, whose wife is Tahiti Hernandez. You might know Tahiti’s brother, Bruno Mars.

The Walsh brothers I know personally, the other two only by reputation, but I was cheering for all four. You have to support the Maui boys, especially at Jaws.

The competition still hadn’t started when one of the surfers made it down the face of the wave, but instead of turning, went straight. You can’t do that at Jaws; you can’t outrun the wave. It will catch you and punish you with wicked fury. That’s what happened to this guy, Australian surfer Mark Matthews. The wave caught him and tried to drown him. He popped up and got hit by another monster.

Somebody darted in with a Jet Ski and pulled him out of the impact zone. They stabilized him and he was off to the medical boat. Then one of the rescuers approached us and said, “You guys need to take him back to the harbor so he can go to the hospital.”

We got Matthews into our boat and tried to make him comfortable, but he was a mess. He had caught a moving mountain and paid for it with a dislocated shoulder and a couple of broken bones. It was easier riding back to Kahului with the waves than against them, but it still must have been a nightmare for Mark.

There isn’t much to tell after that. Jaws kept pumping and the competition did, too. Kai Lenny rushed almost every wave and popped back up after every wipeout. Shaun Walsh was battered by the wind as he headed down a monster, but kept his balance and rode it all the way down. Big brother Ian looked like he was going to have an amazing ride in the barrel of a behemoth, but got hit by the lip of a wave and fell into a backwards wipeout. He still scored well enough to take fourth place. First place went to Billy Kemper, who found the barrel and rode out like a bullet train out of Osaka.

By the end, I was sunburnt and running on fumes. Heading back, Uncle Dougie said, “You did good today. Next time get competition, ask for my boat.”

I laughed. “Next time I’ll drive out to Jaws and swim to you from shore. I don’t want to ride from the harbor to Jaws ever again.”

He smiled, and pushed the boat to top speed. We crashed wave after wave, and this time I smiled, too.


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