November ‘Spotlight on Maui’: The Start of Big Wave Season

“Spotlight On Maui” is a monthly series written for VacationRoost, an online accommodation site helping you find your perfect rental.

For most places in the northern hemisphere November announces the beginning of winter. Sure, some places see snow in October and ski resorts from Tahoe to Colorado are already open for business, but the early season storms aside it’s the month of November which hosts the seasonal transition. Days are shorter, the air is chillier, and ski and snowboard enthusiasts prep their bodies and boards for what will hopefully be an epic winter ahead.

Jaws on Maui

Thousands of miles away in the Pacific the situation really isn’t all that different. The days are shorter, the days become cooler (79 instead of 88), and surfers across the state prep their bodies and boards for what will hopefully be an epic winter ahead. Although winter may not mean snow for the island of Maui (except for the summit of Haleakala), the hexagonal frozen flakes are replaced by A-frame, bulbous slabs of ocean which gather strength as they move thousands of miles across the Pacific before pulsing into Maui’s rugged northern shores. Winter is big wave season in Maui, and November is the month when the swells transition from the “take-it-while-it’s-here” swells of summer to the “I’m-afraid-to-paddle-out”swells of winter.

Early Season Storms

Granted, in the same way that the mainland US has already received early season shots of winter, Maui has already been graced with unseasonably large surf for the month of October. Here’s some footage from a recent swell at Jaws that is regarded as being one of the biggest days ever ridden by surfers paddling under their own power. Also, the lack of tradewinds during the swell made for clean, glassy conditions which are almost unheard of at the notorious big wave spot. If this is what October is looking like it’s any wonder what the rest of the winter will bring.

So Why Are Hawaii’s Waves So Big?

The waves which hit Hawaii in the winter months are generated by winter storms spinning unobstructed east of Japan and south of the Aleutian Islands. Packing winds as high as hurricane strength these tightly-wound storms churn their way across the Pacific on a march towards the continental west coast. Though the storms often deteriorate in intensity by the time they make landfall in places such as Oregon, British Columbia, and Northern California, during the peak of their intensity over the water the winds generate waves which emanate out like ripples in a southeasterly direction across the Pacific. If you can imagine that the entire northern Pacific is a large pond, and someone drops a rock from space which lands about 800 miles east of Japan, the ripple effect created would be the waves generated by the storm.

With no landmass to absorb any of the energy of the swell, the Hawaiian Islands are the first obstruction which come into contact with the waves as they continue a southeasterly march towards southern Mexico. Given that the distance these waves travel is about 3,000 miles and Hawaii is the first place to see them is the reason why the waves in the winter are larger than those in the summer. Waves in the summer are generated by large, hurricane strength storms in the Southern Hemisphere (since it’s winter down there), which must travel 7,000 miles to reach Hawaii and lose a lot of their energy as they pass through the slew of South Pacific island chains. Consequently, it only takes an 8 foot wave to issue a high-surf advisory on a south facing shore in Hawaii, whereas wave heights of 15 ft. are required for an advisory to be posted on the north facing shores.

During the summer months of May-September the northern Pacific is largely devoid of these ferocious storms, and consequently places like Jaws remain flat. Once October and November roll around, however, the tempestuous fury of the northern Pacific has once again kicked into winter gear, and the end result is not only embraced by Maui surfers, but it’s a spectacle to behold for any visitors who happen to be spending a winter holiday in the islands.

Want to see Maui’s big surf firsthand? Why not check out VacationRoost for an affordable list of places to stay on Maui.

{Photo credits: Jeff Rowley Big Wave Surfer via Flickr,

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