For armchair adrenaline junkies, "Jaws Maui," has provided a peek into the extreme sport of tow-in surfing - with the benefit of not risking your life or even getting wet.
The oversized book went through two printings in Hong Kong - 30,000 copies in 1997 and another 10,000 copies in 1998.
Photographer Patrick McFeeley took thousands of pictures of windsurfers, surfers and bodyboarders as they pioneered tow-in surfing in the early 1990s at the Jaws surf site in Peahi. The promotion of his book, "Jaws Maui," and the publication of his pictures of surfers tackling 40- to 60-foot waves in the November 1998 National Geographic Magazine popularized the sport, he said.
PATRICK McFEELEY photo
Big-wave surfer Pete Cabrinha drops into a wave at the famed Peahi surf break on Maui’s north shore. Photographer Patrick McFeeley’s “Jaws Maui” picture book features hundreds of images of windsurfers, surfers and bodyboarders charging the legendary wave.
"From that point it went mainstream," said McFeeley, who now lives in Kailua-Kona.
Before it gained acceptance, tow-in surfing offended traditional wave riders because the new breed of big wave surfers used straps to keep their feet on their boards. They also caught waves with the assistance of personal watercraft drivers who towed them like water skiers. The surfers needed to reach speeds of 30 to 35 mph to ride the giant surf breaks at Peahi without wiping out, McFeeley said.
Now, he has 350 copies of his book remaining. He will be selling them for $50 each during book signings July 4 to 6 at the Maui Ocean Center in Maalaea. The signing events will be held from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 2 to 4 p.m. on all three days. Then, at 6:30 p.m. July 6, McFeeley, 56, will give a talk on the early history of tow-in surfing at Jaws and his experiences in photographing the new sport and with how his book was launched and promoted. The free talk with be in the Maui Ocean Center's Open Ocean Exhibit. Entry is through the aquarium's front gate at 6:20 p.m.
Seating is limited, and reservations are encouraged and can be made by calling 270-7089.
McFeeley's 276-page book features dozens of photos of tow-in surfers and windsurfers riding the mammoth waves. Surfers including Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama, Pete Cabrinha, Rush Randle, Brett Lickle and Gerry Lopez share their experiences in their own words.
A couple of examples include:
"There is so much noise from the wave itself," Lickle says. "You can even hear it up at my house. That's the hardest part, hearing it all night the night before. I always tell myself I'm not going. That's the only way I can get to sleep."
And, "when that swell direction comes in, it swings around the tip of West Maui," Lopez says. "The whole brunt force of that swell swings down the coast focused on the corner of Jaws. It comes in there, and it's got five to 10 times the intensity that any other spot on that whole coast of Maui even gets from the swell."
But aside from the photos, the surfers' recollections and some of the history and background of tow-in surfing, McFeeley also wants to share his story: How he came to Maui with a camera in hand, began snapping pictures of surfing pioneers at Peahi and how it all came together as a book and as a November 1998 cover story in National Geographic Magazine.
McFeeley began taking pictures while living on Kauai in 1990, but he didn't get serious about photography as a profession until Hurricane Iniki struck in 1992. Around a month after losing everything in the storm, McFeeley received a federal disaster loan to replace his personal belongings.
Instead, he bought a professional camera and lens. He moved to Maui in late 1993 and began taking pictures of windsurfers at Peahi, or Jaws.
"At the time, I had no idea where this new sport here was going," he said. "The magazines would not publish the photos. Most surf photographers and surfers thought it wasn't cool or old school to use foot straps and Jet Skis to surf with.
"There were many days when I spent my rent and food money to take and archive the thousands of images I took at Jaws," said McFeeley, who took his pictures from the Peahi cliffs and perched from a helicopter.
He said he wasn't even sure what he would do with all the images.
But "what kept me going was my overwhelming belief in the people involved and what they were doing," he said. "It was special, even though no one else thought so. I knew with all my heart that this was the greatest show on Earth."
McFeeley's breakthrough came in 1996, when the editor and owner of American Windsurfer Magazine became excited about the photos and published six images, each one a double-paged spread.
Later, McFeeley decided to do the Jaws Maui book with "big dramatic images, surfing, windsurfing and bodyboarding all at Jaws with a mix of my best scenics of Maui. Let the images tell the story."
After being turned down by all prospective publishers, McFeeley decided to self-publish the book. With the advice of Peter Canon, the writing of Charlie Lyon and the financing of windsurfer Bjorn Dunkerbeck, McFeeley was able to get his book published in China where it was least expensive to publish the high-quality photos.
But, even in China, McFeeley found adventure.
While working to get the book printed in Mainland China, McFeeley needed to get material for his book from his Hong Kong base to China. But he learned that to get the material into China, it was supposed to be taken by a government courier, a process that would have delayed his book's publication by at least three months, which meant at the time that he'd miss the Christmas book-buying season.
"I went to the president of the company to ask what can be done and why can't he carry the printing proofs into China," McFeeley said. "In a matter-of-fact way, he said if he got caught he would go to prison. I asked what if I carried the proofs. He looked me in the eye and said you would go to jail and then be deported eventually."
McFeeley said he decided to take the proofs into China himself, which meant that, in all, he'd need to make nine trips between Hong Kong and China in a 14-day period.
Most of the trips were uneventful, but McFeeley said he was nervous.
"There were Chinese secret police everywhere and armed guards," he said.
Then, on his eighth trip, "I had a really big scare," he said.
"Everything went as usual as I made my way to the exit," he said. "The first thing I noticed was that the van was not at the door waiting for me. I opened the door and just as I stepped forward a small green four-door sedan pulled up in front of me and four uniformed army guys jumped out.
"One immediately pulled a gun on me, and I froze," McFeeley said. "All I could think of was I am busted. My book isn't going to get finished, and I'm going to jail in China."
After about 20 seconds, with the Chinese officer yelling at him and waving his gun at McFeeley's midsection, the photographer realized "I was blocking the doorway, and he just wanted me out of the way.
"In that second of realization, I quickly stepped aside and let the others through while the guard with the gun stood there until their business was finished and they left just as quickly as they had come."
McFeeley said it would be too expensive in today's publishing environment to undertake new printings of his costly picture book. Now, it's out of print, he said, and "it's time to put it to bed."
* Reach Brian Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org