Editor’s Note: Surviving Jaws is a new series following big wave surfer Isaac Stant’s lifelong relationship with Pe’ahi, the famous surf break in his backyard of Maui, and what it takes to paddle giants.
My first experience with the world famous wave at Jaws was when I was seventeen years old. I started out by being towed into the massive waves by a jet ski. I remember being out there and thinking how powerful and humbling of a place Jaws is. But it wasn’t until January 4th, 2011 that I first paddled into Jaws. It was the first big swell of the year and big wave surfers from all over the world were out there in the lineup. As I started heading down the cliff I recall having crazy butterflies. Just looking at the 10 foot waves slamming into the massive boulders made me nervous.
Everything about Jaws is a challenge, from walking down the cliff to enter the water, to paddling back in at the end of a session. Once I got through the shore break, I felt my first wave of relief. I was out there for a few hours before I got into a wave. I stroked in and as I got to my feet, I got held up at the top. The winds were howling up the face of the wave. At that point I knew I had to jump off the ledge.
I felt like I was getting ripped apart like a rag doll from the power of the wave. Once I made it to the surface I was just so happy to have come out of that alive.
Later that same month, on January 31, there was another huge swell. While I was out there I remember seeing these crazy west bowls with short intervals. That meant that if you fell on the first wave, you would get destroyed by the other two right after it. After some time passed, I saw lines stacking out the back. Every big wave surfer knows that feeling.
I barely made it over the first one, then there was wave number two. I tried to punch through the lip but just scratched over the top. I just got through when I felt myself getting sucked backwards. I just remember thinking to myself, “Holy crap, this is happening.” Then boom! I got slammed. My body was getting pulled in every direction and I felt myself getting pushed really deep into the water. I could feel my lungs tightening and my body was tingling. I felt like I was underwater forever. I told myself “come on, Isaac, just hold on and you’ll be fine.” I was trying to stay as positive as I could in such a scary situation.
I finally felt myself drifting to the surface. I popped up and took a big breath. All I could see was white and little black dots. I could hear the jet ski coming to grab me. It was hard to get a grip on it, and the rescue team had to come back around. I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. Once I was on the ski and safe I felt so relieved to have conquered the craziest experience of my life.
I’ve had some crazy wipeouts and a few really close calls out at Jaws, but the feeling of catching a wave out there makes it all worth it. Surfing big waves is my passion. I believe we are meant to overcome fear and to push ourselves. That’s where dreams are conquered.
I love what I do.
Check back next week to see how Isaac Stant trains, both physically and mentally. And follow him on Instagram at @isaacstant to see his most recent training techniques and surfing shots.