Pe’ahi, or Jaws, is a very famous big wave that breaks off Maui’s rocky shore. It is so famous that even non-surfers know it by name (its English name). They say, while standing in the checkout line at Iowa City’s Hy-Vee grocery store, “My gosh, the whole family was recently in Maui for Grannie Jo-Jo’s 75th and we went to see the Jaws. And, wow, it is so big! Uncle Don said he would get a surfboard and paddle out if Uncle Franklin took hula lessons and just had everyone in stitches. Put a drink in that man and he’ll say anything!” The tourists know Jaws exits because of Uncle Laird Hamilton. They watched him surf it, this giant monster, this watery beast, on American Express commercials and they delight in the spectacle.
Surfers delight the spectacle too, and possibly more so. They cheer as brave souls paddle into heaving bombs. They forward YouTube clips of the big days to their surfing colleagues at work and write “F–ken heavey!” in the body of their emails. (Surfers, generally, have poor spelling). They would vote for Jaws waves at Surfer Poll and the XXL Awards if these shows included fan voting. They open magazines and stare at pictures and feel overwhelmed. Jaws has a life of its own. It is bigger than life.
But what if it is, in reality, a little bit smaller? A little bit weaker? A little bit like the bigger-than-all-his-peers four year old who cries easily and often and eats too much mac and cheese? A famous and good man who lives on Oahu’s North Shore called me yesterday as I sat in Beverly Hills traffic and said, “You never see a shot of Jaws from the water. You always see it from the f–ken cliff. But you never see it from the f–ken water. There are water photographers out there but you never see their f–ken shots. Why do you think that is? It’s because the water shots would show what kind of wave it really is.” And I thought, “You know, I don’t remember ever actually seeing a water shot of Jaws. The famous man is right!” And so I called a well-known and good photographer and he said, “Yes. Anything shot looking down, from a cliff, will always look bigger. Jaws doesn’t look nearly as big when shot from the water.”
Well wow. Is Jaws all style no substance? Is Jaws the oceanic version of Chas Smith? Yesterday, in Beverly Hills, I was shopping for jewelry at Solange Azagury-Partridge. A gorgeous store with enamel-dipped white gold. Very chic. Very now.
[Editor’s note: Oh, Chas…]