Big-wave riders face death-defying waves in historic Pe’ahi Challenge

Billy Kemper Pe'ahi Challenge

Hawaiian Billy Kemper was crowned the winner at the first-ever Pe’ahi Challenge, in which wave heights reached 50 feet. Photo: World Surf League

History was made today at the World Surf League (WSL) Pe'ahi Challenge on Maui, after the first-ever big-wave competition was held at the famous surf break Pe'ahi, better known as Jaws.

The world’s best big-wave surfers converged for the historic event, and Maui-born Billy Kemper was crowned winner.

Kemper was visibly elated and choking back tears after the win.

“This is a dream come true. I'm literally just blown away right now. This doesn't even feel real. I just want to dedicate this to my brother; I wouldn't be here without him,” Kemper told a WSL commentator right after the win.

Wave faces reached upward of 55 feet and surfers hit speeds of 50 mph heading down them.

Kemper's best friend and fellow pro surfer, Albee Layer, placed second, while legendary big-wave surfer Greg Long placed third.

Long had the highest-scoring ride of the final, but was unable to catch a second wave, placing him in third.

Young gun Kai Lenny made it to the semi-finals but didn’t advance. He did however get some amazing footage inside one of the massive waves.

The event was the second in the 2015/2016 WSL’s Big Wave Tour and had strict wave-height requirements for the event to actually get underway.

“Whoever wins this is probably the best big-wave surfer in the world,” pro surfer Dave Kalama said before the final heat.

Surfers were required to paddle into the waves, instead of getting towed in by a Jet Ski.

Greg Long finals Pe'ahi Challenge

Greg Long had the highest-scoring wave during the final, but didn’t manage to ride another one, placing him in third. Photo: World Surf League

Each rider wore an emergency personal flotation device that could be deployed in case they got pulled under for too long.

Many of the competitors train to hold their breath anywhere from three to six minutes, so they don't drown.

RELATED: Pro surfer Evan Geiselman nearly drowns at Pipeline

Multiple surfboards were broken during the contest, and a Jet Ski operator was knocked over in the huge surf.

The final ran an hour and 15 minutes, which was 15 minutes longer than other heats because of a slow start.

Surfers in the final spent a total of three hours surfing, since each heat lasted one hour.

Koa Rothman sliding down the face of a wave on a major wipeout during Round 1

Koa Rothman shoes how horrific the wipeouts can be. Photo: World Surf League

Some had faced massive wipeouts.

Shane Dorian made it to the final and was forced to surf minutes after one such wipeout.

Pro surfer Martin Potter said the athletes needed to be in peak physical conditions to survive the falls.

“The average human wouldn’t survive that,” he said of the wipeouts.

Surfers were given the option to either paddle out to the break from the beach or take a boat ride in.

The contest marks an increase in popularity for big-wave surfing contests, which are difficult to hold because of the wave-height requirements.

“Big-wave surfing is on the move. This is probably the most groundbreaking day we've ever seen where guys are pushing themselves over the edge on 45-foot-plus waves,” Potter said.

The whole contest was streamed live online. The public was not able to attend the event because the beach is surrounded by private property.

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