As surfers pray for waves on Maui during the winter, a select few ask for the gut-wrenching 30-plus foot walls of water that only Jaws on the North shore can provide. You may have seen surfers towed into the massive breaks behind a jet ski, but there is a group of riders who will only paddle into them, taking the sport to an even more extreme level that only a few years ago was thought impossible.
Wangdu Hovey, an amateur filmmaker on Maui, is capturing the essence of this sport in his feature film documentary Jaws: Changing the Game, which premiers this Sunday, June 17 at the Castle Theater at 9pm as part of the Maui Film Festival.
“It’s intense being out there on a jet ski,” says Hovey. “I love it. It’s pretty difficult dealing with the sea chop, wind spray and all of the other skis out there, everyone is jockeying for better position and the surfers come riding right past us. On January 4th, I was filming an empty wave while my driver Tide was tracking it. He took too sharp of a turn; I didn’t have straps or anything, so I went tumbling right off. I knew everyone on the cliff must have been laughing at me. We were lucky to save the camera and the footage. We have a pretty basic setup to film, and no helicopter budget, but we did our best to capture the spirit of the movement and hope to put a stamp on what’s going on out there.
“We wanted to tell the true story of what is going on out there and highlight some of the less known guys who are truly committed and deserve recognition,” Hovey continued. “Guys like Marcio Freire, and the Walsh Brothers have been pioneering a new realm out there.”
Hovey was born on Hawaii Island and learned to surf at “Drainpipes” in old Kalapana before Kilauea’s lava flow took it out. He moved to Maui in 1994, later graduating from Maui High. Raised by a single mother, he says she was committed to exposing him to art, drama, musicians, sculptors, writers and creative types. After high school he joined the Coast Guard, where his tour of duty included a stint in Iraq.
“Being in the military allowed me to visit many places and cultures and tuned my attention for detail,” says Hovey. “Once out of the service I attended film school in Manhattan, and formed my first production company specializing in event videography. Continuing to produce creative works I always strove for bigger projects, until I felt the time was right for this one.”
Founded in 2011, Hovey’s Peahi Surf Media consists of graphic designer and marketing director Bert Valdez, video producer Justin Clark, water safety specialists Tide and Kiva Rivers (who are also the sons of Maui Film Festival founder and director Barry Rivers), water photographer Danny Bethke and production accountant Jaime Lynch.
“I did not receive any funding or help from the Hawaii Film Office, says Hovey. “The production was completely independent. Lou Dilaberto and Tree at Akaku community television were a big help in the last few days helping to process files on their larger computer systems. Anyone who wants to get an introduction course in TV production and editing should see them, they have a great course schedule and some awesome equipment.”
Hovey says he was influenced by A Deeper Shade of Blue by Jack McCoy, Drifter by Taylor Steele, films by Troy Eckert at Volcom and Maui-produced HGA films like Easily Amused. He admits it’s a bit ironic that he’s screening his movie on Maui on Father’s Day, given the lack of one in his life, but says he’s had some incredible male mentors in his life, and his mom is a strong woman who never made it feel like he was missing something.
“It is going to be an auspicious Father’s Day for me as I’ll be celebrating my first one, as my girlfriend Jaime is 17 weeks pregnant and I’m definitely going to pick up where my dad left off,” says Hovey. “My father is an established artist who gave me three beautiful half sisters, and I inherited his artistic eye which I am thankful for.”
Hovey’s film offers a window to the world of Jaws and exposes the life-threatening risks that these surfers take. Viewers will see the conversations surfers have about facing these giant waves and their raw feelings about facing Mother Nature head to head. Using their own words instead of a narrator, the film lets the surfers take you on their adventure of dropping into a wave of a lifetime, and shows their obsession at doing it again and again.
Peahi Surf Media’s entry into the Billabong XXL Ride of the year Awards took fourth place with newcomer Jeff Rowley’s ride footage. “It was like riding a roller coaster, three times my heart was in my throat,” said Rowley of his wave. The film also had its international premier last Sunday in Spain at the San Sebastian Surf Film Festival where it enjoyed an enthusiastic welcome.
“My most memorable moment of the world premier in Spain was taking out my recycling in Haiku,” says Hovey. “I kept checking my emails getting updates from the organizers. We didn’t make it to San Sebastian but I was stoked that the film did and premiered internationally. It was an honor to participate and we hope to be accepted at a few other prestigious surf film festivals.”
Hovey is excited for his Maui screening, he’s looking forward to finally seeing the film with his family, friends and the surf community. He says he surfs Jaws on occasion but is more interested in filming it.
“I have had the opportunity to tow and paddle surf Jaws,” he says. “Tide Rivers has always been a motivation in the surf and he was the guy to drag me out there and tow me into my first few. Last year I missed it but a few of the boys paddled out there. Our friend Turtle, who passed away recently, was one of them. After he died I vowed to paddle surf it for him. So far I’ve gotten a few sessions under my belt, but I prefer filming once it gets massive.”
For more information go to Peahisurfmedia.com or mauifilmfestival.com. To get tickets to the premier, call 808-572-9244 or stop by the ticket desk at Whole Foods.