Sessions at Jaws – KW #80


Martin Vari puts in the work for a session at Jaws


Several riders braved Jaws during an epic Hawaiian winter in 2016 and made heroic names for themselves. It was the appearance of a kitesurfing icon from years gone-by, scoring the insane wave you see below, that particularly tickled our editorial tail features though!


Image: Pierre Bouras

Here’s Martin’s story behind the shot


I was on Maui for just a couple of weeks when this swell hit. Prior to that it had been six years since my last visit. It feels almost like another lifetime when kiting was my life and I called Hawaii home. I don’t kite for a living anymore; just pure joy.

The forecast was predicting that yet another El Niño XXL swell would hit Maui four days after I arrived and it looked like the wind would be good on the second day. Kiting Jaws had always been on my dream list, but I never really seriously set out to go and ride it. This time it seemed like I was about to get an overwhelming ‘welcome back to Hawaii…’.

There’s no easy way of launching close to Jaws, so most people get a lift up on a jet-ski from Maliko Gulch, several kilometres downwind. My friend Maxi has a ski but he had already been hired by a windsurfer. He mentioned that in the old days windsurfers sailed upwind from Ho’okipa – and that in strong wind it was apparently possible in about 40 minutes. At such short notice, and after six years of being out of the scene, my only option was to go ‘old school’ and get up there by kiting upwind.

I secured my Patagonia floating vest and launched my 8.5 metre kite at Lanes around noon. The wind was still light but I was too anxious to stay on land. The sets were closing out from Ho’okipa to Mama’s Fish House in a big straight line. I told my girlfriend, Carla, that I was gonna go to the cliff and look at Jaws – and that if I didn’t show up in two hours, she should come back and pick me up at Lanes. I made it to the outside and started my journey upwind.

The wind remained light and the current was strong. After 30 minutes I was still only just outside Ho’okipa. I kept going in and out but it seemed like I would never make it upwind. Just after 1pm the wind started picking up and I began to believe that sooner or later I was going to make it.

Soon enough I made it to Maliko Bay where the skis launch and could see a little dot moving around way upwind. But, man… the kite looked tiny! I was still really far away. The whole coast is just cliffs and deep blue open ocean. By then I had already been tacking upwind for 90 minutes and was feeling very small. I’m not in the same shape as I was when I was 20 years-old and regularly riding four hours a day. My legs were burning already and I hadn’t even started catching waves.

Fortunately I caught sight of a jet-ski and headed straight for it as if it was a stream of water in the middle of a desert. Kevin Collins and his friend were making their way up there. I was so happy to see them and begged Kevin to tow me upwind the last part of the way, saving me a lot of time and vital energy. Two hours after I started, I finally got to Jaws. Mahalo Kevin!

By then the wind had picked up and the waves were pumping. I was scared, but that’s what makes things fun. I rode my first wave conservatively and with respect. I didn’t want to go too deep or end up too close to the cliff. I just concentrated on the next bit of chop and getting to the channel. I passed Maxi’s ski and while we watched the next wave come through I asked him what mine had looked like? “Even bigger!” he grinned. It hit home where I was.

Even while riding the wave you don’t really ‘get’ how big Jaws is until you see the thing from the channel. At water level. Pure magic and a freak of nature; the way it comes in from deep ocean, stands-up massively and then peels perfectly as it wraps along the reef with speed. Add in the offshore wind and you go so incredibly fast on the board. I soon realised just how wrong my board size was for this type of kiting. Making turns was out the question, but I still wanted to play with the beast.

One wave in particular felt like a cosmic trip. The face was so smooth, like a surfing day as there wasn’t a ripple on the face. I could stick my rail in and commit to getting closer to the pit. I knew I was close but ended up catching my kite lines in the lip and getting sucked up and smashed in my stomach. I’ve had this happen many times in smaller waves. 

Usually the back lines are affected first so the kite flies back in the window. I had my focus on keeping the kite up in the air and I knew I was about to fly over a giant wave with a board leash attached. (I know it’s not the safest thing but I felt like using one as I didn’t have a ski). Lucky enough the kite stayed in the air and the board didn’t hit me! That ride was so intense. I called it a day just after 4pm and started my journey downwind. My legs were fried and it was a long way back to Lanes, but that was a special moment in the ocean, digesting and reflecting on how much I love spending time on the water and riding these conditions. What had initially started as a ride upwind full of anxiety and fear ended up being a ride downwind full of emotion and happiness. I wouldn’t change that day in any way and I’m really thankful for the experience. But next time I’d much rather plead with one of my Maui friends for a lift!


This feature first appeared in KW #80 in April 2016. Subscribe to the magazine for six issues a year of the original international kitesurfing magazine, rooted at the heart of the sport, and get more tales of adventure like this every issue.


Back to features

Related Articles