I’ve never really been able to stomach the idea of photographing the exact same thing as another photographer, especially not 100 other photographers. But that is exactly what I did recently on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. We arrived the day before the biggest swell of the 2012 winter season and were fortunate enough to witness some incredible surfing at jaws on January 4th. This, from what I’ve heard, was the first surf session at Jaws for this winter season. Quite a way to welcome in the new year!
For years I’ve heard of this spot and so it was pretty exciting to actually witness it breaking. Stephanie and I found the dirt road/trail leading down the hill towards the bluff overlooking jaws well before daylight. It didn’t look like a good idea to try our luck driving the rental van down the trail so we walked down and caught our first glimpse of the wave just as the first jetski showed up.
The tow-in surfers caught about ten waves before the traditional paddle surfers began getting in position and going for waves. There is an agreement amongst the surfers that once a surfer tries paddling into the wave the tow surfing will stop.
Within an hour of daybreak the bluff above jaws was crawling with spectators. A good percentage of them having the look of professional, or serious hobby photographers. This is normally enough to put me off from even pulling my camera out of the bag – perhaps this is my Alaskan spirit that resists doing anything commonplace or mainstream. But, honestly, watching these waves and the feats of athleticism on display I couldn’t help myself, so out came the camera and I spent half the day happily photographing the action right along with 100 other photographers.
The bluffs above the surf break at jaws wasn’t the only crowded place. There was, from what I heard, a record number of surfers and jetskis in the water this morning as well.
I couldn’t help but think about the likes of Laird Hamilton and the guys that first started surfing this break years ago. It must be shocking for them to see what a zoo of humanity has followed in their wake. For a few seconds I wondered – as I stood there in my flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt enjoying a rather cool morning– would the surf scene in Alaska look like this some day? I tried to imagine, but couldn’t really picture it. All these people huddled up enduring the cold, probably some mix of snow and rain falling on them. Nope, Alaska is going to be the Last Frontier for a while longer still I think.
You can see a bunch more photos from this day in my online photo archive gallery: Surfing Jaws January 4th, 2012