The name Peʻahi originally applied to an ancient Hawaii land area (ahupuaʻa) at about 20°55′00″N 156°17′00″W. Like many ancient land areas, it extended from the northern slopes of Haleakalā to the sea-level Peʻahi gulch. It also lent its name to a reservoir formed by a dam across the Uaoa Stream. The name Peʻahi means "wave" in the Hawaiian language, in the sense of a fanning or beckoning motion of the hand.
Much of the land is owned by Alexander & Baldwin, formerly leased for agriculture to Maui Pineapple Company (until it went out of business in 2009).
The Jaws surf break is roughly three miles east of Pāʻia and just north of Pauwela from the Hana Highway (Route 36) at 20°56′36″N 156°17′52″W. A mostly unpaved road leads north from the highway between mile marker 13 and 14. The name Peʻahi for the break is a word-play on the nearby ancient area name, since the Hawaiians had several other words such as nalu for waves of water. When the Maui surfers John Roberson, John Lemus, and John Potterick were surfing the break in 1975, they noticed a sudden change in the conditions to huge dangerous waves, and gave it a nickname after the film Jaws, comparing the unpredictability to a shark attack.
In the 1980s, a few intrepid wind surfers (Mark Pedersen, Dave Kalama, Brett Lickle) surfed the break from Hoʻokipa. The wave sizes at Jaws (which can exceed 60 feet (18 m) during the months of December to March) attract big wave surfers such as Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama using the tow-in surfing method of big wave surf riding they co-invented (with Darrick Doerner and Buzzy Kerbox). To avoid a steep climb, rocky beach and fast-moving waves, many surfers are towed by personal water craft launched from nearby areas such as the boat ramp at Māliko Bay.
In 1997 Charles and Leslie Lyon published a book of surfer photographs titled Jaws Maui. An article by Joel Achenbach on Jaws appeared in the November 1998 issue of National Geographic magazine, both photographed by Patrick McFeeley. The extreme size of the waves is caused by the structure of an underwater ridge which has been studied by scientists.
Doerner, Kalama, and Hamilton appeared as stunt doubles for James Bond in the opening sequence of the film Die Another Day filmed at Jaws in 2001. National Geographic Adventure magazine had an article in its July 2002 issue. The publicity greatly increased the popularity of the site, resulting in over-crowding by 2004.
The lookouts on the cliffs above the break are the best vantage points for spectators; professional photographers use boats or helicopters. The road was blocked in 2006, but cleared in 2009. There have been several "World Cup of Tow-in Surfing" contests held, but the changing conditions mean the dates cannot be set in advance.
The Billabong XXL awards given to big wave surfers often have several nominated from the Jaws break in the "biggest wave" category. Even experienced surfers can be seriously injured on the violent waves, and the remote location requires expensive rescues via helicopter.
In 2001 Chris Bertish, a South African big wave surfer, became the first to surf Peahi (Jaws) paddling. http://www.surfersvillage.com/content/chris-bertish-announces-2nd-attempt-break-stand-paddleboard-world-record
On 4 January 2012, Greg Long, Ian Walsh, Kohl Christensen, Jeff Rowley, Dave Wassel, Shane Dorian, Mark Healey, Carlos Burle, Nate Fletcher, Eli Goldwyn, Goucho Gordon, Garrett McNamara, Kai Barger, North Shore locals and other of the best big wave surfers in the world invaded the Hawaiian Islands for a historic day of surfing. Jeff Rowley made Australian history by being the first Australian to paddle into a 50-foot plus (15 metre) wave at Jaws Peahi, Hawaii, achieving his 'Charge for Charity' mission set for 2011, to raise money for Breast Cancer Australia.
On 30–31 January 2012, Jeff Rowley and a number of international big wave surfers including Greg Long, Shaun Walsh and Albee Layer spent two days paddle-surfing Jaws, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, as part of their ongoing big-wave paddle-in program at the deep-water reef, further cementing the new frontier of paddle-in surfing at Jaws.
On 30 March 2012, big wave surfer and adventure athlete, Jeff Rowley was a finalist in the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards 2011/2012, in the Ride of the Year category with his rides at Jaws Peahi in Maui, Hawaii on 30 January 2012, placing him 4th place in the world of elite big wave surfers and meriting the respect of the big wave surfing community.
A big wave surfing contest hosted by Red Bull will be held at Jaws Peahi, with invitation of 21 of the best big wave surfers in the world. The waiting period for the contest is from 8 December to 15 March 2013. Some of the known invitees to the contest include Jeff Rowley, Albee Layer, Greg Long, Shane Dorian, John John Florence, and Kala Alexander.