By now you've seen all the jaw-dropping highlights from the Pe'ahi Challenge from every angle imaginable, and you'll likely be seeing a lot more in weeks ahead. But if you haven't soaked up the frozen moments yet, do yourself a favor and scroll gently down this post to truly take in each of these incredible moments. And for what it's worth, if you're having a tough time digesting just how big these beasts are, stare closely and just imagine them rolling in at your home break; that usually does the trick.
Ian Walsh is off to a nice start. On Friday the Maui native bagged two of the biggest waves of Round One, earning him the day's big headline. Then he went ahead and topped that Saturday, weaving his way through this screamer of a barrel in the Semifinal that not only earned him a perfect 10, but some are calling it the best wave ever ridden at Pe'ahi...and he wasn't done. In the Final, the 34-year-old charger came from behind in the last half to take the win, and nobody deserved it more.
It wasn't all that long ago when a moment like this at Jaws was thought to be impossible. Conventional wisdom was that Pe'ahi couldn't be paddled into. Even Hollywood said so. After all, nobody would dare try to push their perfectly healthy body over the ledge of a 45-footer. Oh what a difference a decade makes.
Ryan Hipwood wasn't on the original heat roster for the Pe'ahi Challenge. The Australian charger earned his spot on the alternate list the hard way, dedicating himself to tracking and chasing swells all over the world for the past decade. So on Friday when Grant "Twiggy" Baker couldn't get to Maui in time for his heat and Shane Dorian had to withdraw due to a back injury, it was hardly surprising that Hipwood was already suited up and ready to make the most of his opportunity...and boy did he ever.
Flying helicopters in mountain regions is risky, but when those mountains are crashing violently feet beneath spinning blades it can be downright harrowing. The famous yellow bird you see flying at Pe'ahi is outfitted with a state-of-the-art Cineflex Ultra camera unit, and capturing incredible aerial angles of the world's heaviest wave means flying at close range.
Brazil's Lucas Chianca is one of the brightest young talents working his way up the Big Wave Tour ranks. His stated goal is to surf huge waves as he would any other, regardless of size, and that's exactly how he was treating Jaws on his backhand. While he got some solid performance turns in during his two heats, he spent a good chunk of his riding time airborne, free-falling into massive pits.
Given his penchant for riding the barrel at Jaws, Albee Layer was one of the clear favorites coming into this year's event. Yet when word reached him that this year's event was running early, he was adventuring through Europe, and not exactly thrilled with the prospect of racing home for what seemed like a sketchy forecast. That said, he wasn't going to miss it either. Layer didn't find quite as many tubes this year, but he had his moments, like this two-handed touch of the water off the bottom.
The progression of big-wave performances over the past decade is rooted in the advancement of safety. The proliferation of rescue sleds and skilled drivers has saved countless lives, and the inflatable vest is the latest major milestone. The ability to aid a surfer back to the surface offers the extra boost of confidence required to push harder, and it's working.
Not sure about you, but we can never see too many versions of Ian Walsh's stunning 10-point ride in the Semifinals. The elements that came together to make this moment happen are mind-bending, and the amount of work put in by Ian to maximize this opportunity is just as awe-inspiring. This is why he does it.
You can't be successful at Pe'ahi without a healthy dose of confidence, but it's worth noting that confidence there comes infused with a healthy dose of respect, humility and gratitude. Walsh was feeling an extra dose of the latter after his remarkable ride.
Simply sitting in the lineup at Jaws was considered crazy not all that long ago. The sheer volume of water moving around had a paralyzing effect on most mortals. But the barriers keep breaking, and today's big-wave charging women are the latest indication. They're pushing things forward at a rapid speed, as their numbers increase. This year's Final was far more competitive due to how many women are feeling comfortable in the heavy stuff.
One of the most overlooked aspects of this year's Pe'ahi Challenge is just how close Billy Kemper came to pulling off a three-peat. He finished just 3 points off of Ian Walsh's pace in the Final, enough to place in the runner-up position. To his credit, he was in contention all the way with rides like this.
Paige Alms wasn't sure what was better in the wake of her second-straight win at Pe'ahi; watching her peers charge twice as hard as last year or having the entire lineup to themselves -- especially since conditions this year were perfect.
Alms played the patience game perfectly en route to her victory, holding firm at her favorite takeoff spot until the right opportunities presented themselves. In the end, she needed only two rides for the win, and getting to the bottom of this behemoth secured it.
Kai Lenny's ability to stay composed in critical situations is getting ridiculous. He barely batted an eye when taking a 40-footer on the head during the Final, and in situations like this in the Pe'ahi bowl section, he seemed to be enjoying a Zen moment.
Makuakai Rothman may have finished in 3rd place overall this year, but in the category of true grit, he had to be the winner. With North Shore legend Johnny Boy Gomes motivating him from the channel, Rothman paddled deep into the deadly zone to repeatedly grab monsters like this one. How he was able to survive pulling into Hail Mary closeouts is a mystery that -- quite frankly -- needs solving. But what was even more remarkable was his ability to take the beat downs and come back for more.
Reaching the channel at Jaws is always worthy of a celebration, and for good reason; it's big-wave surfing's version of the end zone. While we saw a wide variety of ways to acknowledge a successful completion, Lucas Chianca's celebratory dances were the most entertaining.
After Ian Walsh tracks massive storms over the ocean, he's usually not done. He's been known to follow them over land, and into the mountains, where he'll join big-mountain snowboarding freaks like Travis Rice on all kinds of adventures. Walsh knows what it's like to drop into a crazy line filled with fresh powder. But there's not a pow run on the planet that could have prepared him for this frothy avalanche.