Nat Geo: Surfing Jaws, Maui, Hawaii

Surfing Peʻahi or Jaws, Maui, Hawaii


Photograph by Fred Pompermayer

This might be the best moment of my life, thought big-wave surfer Albee Layer as he was riding Pe’ahi, also known as Jaws, off Maui’s north shore in Hawaii. “I could have been deeper, but the wave was so perfect I knew I was going to make it, so I just turned my head up with my eyes closed, put my tongue out, and yelled.”

The 23-year-old Hawaiian surfer has been surfing this wave since he was 15 years old. “Of the waves we know in the world, this one is pretty much the best,” he says. “You can paddle into as big of a barrel as you can find anywhere else in the world.”

Getting the Shot

“On this day, the wind was very strong, making it difficult for both the surfers and for me to shoot. With each wave the wind was blowing spray onto the camera, making it hard to keep my lens dry,” photographer Fred Pompermayer recalls.

Pompermayer used a Jet Ski to get close to the action and in and out safely between breaks. “Jaws is wide open, and huge, with the water moving all the time. The Jet Ski positions me to get the best shot and allows me to get out fast.”

Pompermayer has been shooting big waves for more than a decade. He’s seen the sport evolve over that time. “It used to be that surfers would only use Jet Skis to get out to the large breaks, but now some courageous surfers have started paddling out for the giant waves.”

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