Peahi to Lanes

Story by Jason Polakow; Photos by Eric Aeder, Tracy Kraft-Leboe, Richard Hallman


For the last 2 seasons we have been waiting patiently for there to be enough wind to sail Jaws. Frustration has been at the epicenter of my mind as I watch the paddle surfers dominate the line-up each season. Most of them unaware, that windsurfers once ruled this magical spot.

A week out I had already seen the swell coming on the Windguru weather forecast. I am so used to seeing the color of white inside the wind boxes, that I have become numb to the possibilities of wind and big waves at Jaws.
But this forecast is bizarrely different. I see shades of blue and green filling the boxes now, indicating that wind is coming. Could this finally be the day we reclaim what has been ours for more than 20 years?

I call Robby Swift instantly and we together look at the forecast more closely. The wind starts east on the first day of the swell and then does a complete 180 degree turn on the second day and blows from the south.
We were both so pumped on Jaws that we did not really think of the possibilities on the second day.

The morning of the swell myself and Robby Swift were already making our way up to Jaws with a back-up boat not far behind carrying some of our equipment along with the photographers.

Arriving at the break I could see boats in the channel with surfboard guns stacked so high on the roofs of the boats you almost needed a step ladder to get them down. Skis also had 4 or 5 boards stacked on the sleds. At least 50 surfers sat in the channel waiting for the swell to pick up.

For Robby and myself everything was going great until it was time to rig up.
I had lost my mast on the way up somehow and our boat had not arrived yet. Robby called the boat captain only to find out they had engine trouble and were going to be delayed by 2 hours. We had no choice but to sit and watch Morgan, KP, Levi, Robby Naish and Brawzinho catching waves. For me this is the definition of torture. I wanted to take the ski back to find the boat but Robby did not want to go.
Robby tried to calm me a little by saying the swell was still building and it was only 12 noon. We had 6 hours to get our fix.

We watched as Morgan had some sick ones. Every time he went back out he was on the right wave of the set. He has a great sense of knowing which waves are the good ones.
I had not seen him out at Jaws before and to see him so in sync with the waves was impressive.

“I’d never been to Jaws before. I’d only gone and watched from the cliff. But I’ve seen so many pictures and videos of it and heard so many stories that when I arrived on the jet ski it felt like I’d been there numerous times already. Even the way the wave was working felt familiar. Once I got my first wave my nerves mostly went away. I was still scared of getting caught by a big set but I started to treat it more like a normal session. I ended up getting six or seven waves and two in particular that felt really big. It was an amazing day and got me pumped to go up there more often.”

JP: After what seemed like an eternity our support boat finally arrived and Robby and myself hit the water full force.
After about 30 minutes of sailing I noticed the wind had dropped by half its normal strength and the direction of the wind had turned more offshore. Levi, Brawzinho and Kevin all headed back to the skis.

Like vultures to the slaughter the surfers saw this as a sign to hit the water and within 15 minutes 30 surfers sat in the line-up. I knew right then it was going to be a struggle to catch waves with the wind so light and offshore, not to mention the continuous influx of paddle surfers to the line-up.

The first bomb set came through and I wanted it so bad. Robby Swift, Robby Naish and myself were the only sailors left.
I positioned myself right near the impact zone as I always do while Robby Swift was further out to sea and a little deeper. I thought I was in the perfect spot but Robby managed to get on the wave early. I saw him struggling on the top of lip, desperately trying to get into it. I took one more look over my shoulder at Robby before the wave arrived at my feet. He was still hung up on the lip of the wave and I was sure he would be blown out the back.
I started to pump my sail to try and get into it as early as I could.
The wave was already so vertical and just as I thought I was in the perfect position the wind totally dropped and I fall back into the face of the wave.
A second later, 30 knots of offshore wind hit the sail and I was once again back on my board but it was just impossible at that point to drop in. I was already 1/2 way up the face of the wave and was blown out the back with spray pouring off the back of the wave. I could not see if Robby had tried to drop in or not.
After the spray cleared I realized Robby had dropped in. I looked around for a head or a rig to pop up in the white water but moments later I saw him in the channel with a grin that I swear I could see from the line-up.
I was happy for him that he went for it but pissed at the same time, as I wanted that one, too.

“This was the first time I have sailed Jaws in about 3 years because, as Jason said, the conditions never aligned for us with wind and waves on the same day. After the frustration of sitting on the ski watching, I was ready to catch some waves and I sat myself right on the inside and super deep so that I would be able to get down the wave. It was hard to even get into the waves as the wind was so onshore so you had to catch it almost as if you were surfing and just pump yourself over the ledge and start the drop with your feet out of the straps, sneak into the straps and then just pray that you weren’t too deep.

That was a really special wave for me, I was so deep, probably about 30m deeper than where Jason was sitting, and I got to see the view of him getting blown out the back and then all the surfers getting sucked up and over the massive bomb set. I pretty much air dropped out of the sky, you can see from the photos that my board leaves the water entirely and skips down the face. I got to the bottom and had to re-adjust a tiny bit before bottom turning and making the best cutback I could manage with all that wind blowing up the face. It was the most exhilarating windsurfing drop I have ever made, probably even harder than the surfing drops that I made there the next day as the wind just didn’t want to let me down the face and I had to just believe that I would get in and then put all my trust in the rail of the board. It was a pretty magical feeling for my first wave there in several years!”

JP: As the day went on we all got a few nice bomb waves but I was still looking for that epic mother bomb set.
Sometimes only 1 set comes through the entire day and I wanted it badly. Around 5 pm it came.
I was the only one left in the line-up windsurfing. I had spent over an hour by myself trying to get the biggest wave I could find. I inched closer and closer to the pack of 50 surfers. The wind was so light and offshore by this point I was sinking up to my waist in water. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a huge set coming. I started to head out but was making no ground.
I made it over the first wave with ease but the second wave was absolutely massive. It stood up so far out I thought I was history. I turned my head to the inside to see all the surfers paddling like crazy for the channel. I, on the other hand, was stuck and the only hope I had was that I was a little further out than the surfers and hoped it was enough to save me from disaster. At the base of this monster I looked up and contemplated to dive through the wave but at that moment the offshore wind hit and I used every ounce of my skills to get some forward momentum and climb up the face of the wave. As the lip started to curl I kind of lifted my sail into the air and hung onto the boom to help propel me and the gear over the back of the wave. At that moment the knot on the front of my boom came undone and my boom literally fell off the mast. I had no choice but to swim my gear and myself out to sea and then fix the problem. I could not believe that had happened but so glad it happened when it did. If it had come undone during a wave it would have been so bad.
After that I called it a day and headed for the safety of the channel…

The next morning the phone rang and Kevin Prichard said Lanes was over mast high and the wind was now 20 knots from the south. Over night the wind had turned 180 degrees.
Within 15 minutes myself, Robby Swift and Morgan were on the Lanes rocks rigging up for another sick session.
In 30 years of living on Maui in the winter I have never seen this happen during one monster swell.
To sail Jaws starboard tack one day and then on the same swell sail Port tack Lanes was just unheard of.
The 3 of us along with the other Maui rippers sailed perfect left hand peeling waves until the wind turned west around 2 pm and our day was done.

“As Jason said, these winter conditions are so fickle. Last year it seemed we could not buy a good day and this year we get two epic days with polar opposite conditions back to back. It was quite magical out there, as always with Kona Lanes. The crowd was very mellow as people don’t like jumping off the rocks to launch and the wave is a lot heavier than Ho’okipa so only a few of us were out there. The offshore wind holds the wave up beautifully so that you can get several glassy turns on each steep, peeling wave. I had one of my best aerials ever that day. I went past Jason on the way out, and he saw that it was a massive wave, so he was shouting: ‘Hit it! Hit it!’ at me, and then I saw Brawzinho and KP in the channel so I knew I couldn’t go around the section. I just bottom turned and committed to the aerial and as I hit the lip the wind blew me so high up in the air, I had to re-adjust my position on the boom several times for the gusts of wind up there and wiggle the angle of the board around just to allow myself to come down in front of the wave and not get blown out the back. I almost let go but I remembered all those times when I let go in the past on the videos and kicked myself, so I just held it and landed on the end of the mast high white water and somehow managed to get back out in front of the clean wave and pull the sail free. What an epic couple of days.”

“Lanes in the same week as sailing Jaws was amazing. I’d gotten some Kona wind days already this year but this was the first day with some bigger waves. The swell direction was pretty ideal as well as you could sail up a bit farther and get a few more turns in than usual. I always try to capitalize on the Kona wind days, as it’s the only time during the winter that I got some port tack sailing in. I got great waves with some aerials to finish off one of the craziest weeks of sailing I’ve ever had.”

JP: We have all uprooted our origins to come and live on Maui for days like this. After my first experience at Jaws 20 years ago I knew right then and there I wanted to live in Maui and ride that wave as much as possible. Days like these make me realize just how much I love to windsurf and how lucky we all are to have such an amazing wave at our door step.

January 2015