Tow-in is an extreme version of the ancient Hawaiian art of wave riding (he'e nalu in the Hawaiian Language). Basically, when the ocean swells become too big and too powerful, the human body cannot physically create enough speed to "catch" or ride these massive amounts of energy. To make this once impossible feat a reality, modern day wave warriors made some modern day adjustments to the sport of surfing. Hence, the birth of Tow-in Surfing. By definition:
"Tow-in surfing is a surfing technique which uses artificial assistance to allow the surfer to catch faster moving waves than was traditionally possible when paddling by hand."
Laird Hamilton is one of the pioneers of the sport of Tow-in Surfing (and also in my mind, one of the greatest watermen of all time). Hamilton grew up on the North Shore of Oahu, but currently lives on the island of Maui. On Maui, he has access to one of the best big wave surf spots on the planet. The wave is called Jaws. When large ocean swells approach the Hawaiian Island Chain from the North Pacific, Jaw's can produce rideable waves in the 30-60ft. range. In addition, Laird made history in August 2000 at an infamous surf break in Tahiti. The surf break is called Teahupoo and the wave he rode that day was considered the "heaviest ever ridden".
Below is some footage from that momentous day. The video is about 5 minutes long. Please watch all the way to the end. The last wave is the biggest ride is the one that made history.
Winter 2015 and January 2016 have offered up some of the biggest surf that we've seen here in Hawaii for years. The weather phenomenon that is sometimes referred to as "El Nino" has created some of the best big-wave and tow-in conditions ever. World class surfing locations like the North Shore of Oahu and "Jaws" (Peahi in the Hawaiian Language) on Maui have seen record-breaking waves roll over it's reefs. And, it appears that there's more to come in 2016!!
Here at PTH, we always suggest safety first when entering the ocean. With that said, please understand that tow-in surfing and riding big waves is for experienced watermen/water women only. However, this is one of the greatest spectator sports around!!!
For more information about big wave surfing and the history of surfing, please watch the movie Riding Giants. This film provides an excellent foundation for this ancient Hawaiian Artform.