We have developed an efficient approach for picking firstbreak wavefronts on coarsely sampled time slices of 3D shot gathers. Our objective was to compute a smooth initial velocity model for multiscale full-waveform inversion (FWI). Using interactive software, first-break wavefronts were geometrically modeled on time slices with a minimal number of picks. We picked sparse time slices, performed traveltime tomography, and then compared the predicted traveltimes with the data in-between the picked slices. The picking interval was refined with iterations until the errors in traveltime predictions fell within the limits necessary to avoid cycle skipping in early arrivals FWI. This approach was applied to a 3D ocean-bottom-station data set. Our results indicate that wavefront picking has 28% fewer data slices to pick compared with picking traveltimes in shot gathers. In addition, by using sparse time samples for picking, data storage is reduced by 88%, and therefore allows for a faster visualization and quality control of the picks. Our final traveltime tomogram is sufficient as a starting model for early arrival FWI. © 2016 Society of Exploration Geophysicists.