Epic: First Time at Jaws with Sean Poynter
Losing a board in the open ocean. Finishing a race after losing your fin. Getting lost at sea after dark. We’ve all heard standup paddling stories like these. Many of us have them.
And that’s what our new feature, Epic, is about. These are the stories from when things go wrong and what happens after. It recounts the hairy escapades, priceless encounters and pinnacle moments of those who live the SUP life, and live it hard.
For the inaugural edition, we reached out to Sean Poynter, the 2013 ISA SUP World Surfing Champion and 2014 SUWT third-place finisher, for the story of his first time paddling Jaws.—Mike Misselwitz
Last March, I was on Maui and I met up with my buddy Adam Warden to surf. Adam, the owner of AJW Surfboards, was on Maui solely to surf Jaws and he asked me to be his partner. I was kinda chickening out 'cus I'd never surfed it, plus it was huge and two days prior XXL (nominations) were being dropped left and right. But the conditions weren't perfect this day, so none of the usual guys were out. There were occasional 30-foot faces coming through with an empty lineup. It was f**king scary, but we had to give it a shot.
Adam and I met at the road that leads into Jaws and headed down the trail in Adam's truck, but neither of us really knew the route. We took a wrong turn and eventually the trail got so bad, there were ruts and massive puddles that'd eat you alive. We made it to one impossibly huge puddle and had to turn around. Just doing that, we nearly flipped his truck.
When we finally made it to the main road, these two honeymooners stopped us in a total panic. They asked us if we could help them with their car, which was stuck in front of a bigger puddle than the one we almost rolled into. Only, their car was a Mustang—a rental.
To the right of the Mustang was a steep overhead bank; below it to the left was the giant puddle. There weren't a lot of options. After about half an hour of piling grass for traction and easing the car out, unsuccessfully, I took the wheel and just floored it. I ended up drifting this Mustang—at around 25 mph—up the bank and around this huge puddle, frickin' Dale Earnhardt style. Miraculously, I cleared it and everything was fine! That episode made Jaws one of the gnarliest experiences of my life before I even touched the water.
Adam and I piled back in the truck and made it to the beach. The place was empty. We put on our suits and floatation devices, grabbed our boards and went down to the water’s edge. The shoreline at Jaws is massive boulders, and that day, there was six- to eight-foot shorebreak slamming into them. The inside alone was a full on death zone.
I waited till a set came through, jumped over what I thought was the last wave and laid down to paddle out of the impact zone. I looked up to find I was wrong—the biggest wave of the set was cresting just outside of me. Luckily I was able to poke the nose through the back and still hold on to my paddle. That rush was insane. I probably wouldn't be here if I hadn't made it.
We got to the lineup and I just stood there watching for a while. Just admiring the giant playing field—massive waves rolling through—and to have it to ourselves was wild.
The hardest part was positioning myself so I didn't take one on the head, since there were no other surfers out for reference. I wasn't expecting to get any waves, but I actually ended up catching a couple fun ones, along with one pretty bad wipeout. Adam got some good waves as well, until he fell and took a few on the head and had to use his inflatable. It ended up being a session like no other; experiencing Peahi alone like that was something special. The paddle back in through the shorebreak onto the boulders is a whole other story.
More SUP tales here.