Saturday, January 2, 1999

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin

A surfer was dwarfed by huge waves at Waimea
Bay yesterday during the Quiksilver Eddie Aikau
surf meet. The contest is held only when waves
reach 25 feet or more.

North Shore
waves hit 25 feet,
but lifeguards
have few rescues

Beaches reopened today, with
lifeguards warning all except
experienced surfers to avoid the water

By Pat Omandam
and Crystal Kua


Take a huge winter swell, an infrequently held surf meet, the start of a three-day holiday weekend and hordes of people converging on North Shore beaches, and you'd expect the worst as a city lifeguard.

Fortunately, yesterday was not as bad as it could have been, said city Chief Water Safety Officer Jim Howe.

"I think, all in all, it really went very, very well," Howe said.

Howe said there were a few incidents of people who needed assistance in the water yesterday -- but nothing near what it could have been if people ignored the warnings of lifeguards to stay out of the surf.

Wave heights peaked at between 20 and 25 feet, but most were in the 15- to 20-foot-range, Water Safety Lt. Mark Cunningham said.

The Quiksilver Eddie Aikau surf meet, which is held when waves are 25 feet or larger, was on yesterday.

"The world's best are there and everyone else is staying out," Cunningham said.

Most North Shore beaches were closed yesterday when the high surf arrived. Most were open today, with surf ranging from 10 to 15 feet and occasional peaks reaching 18 feet, said Water Safety Capt. Edmund Pestana.

Lifeguards, though, were warning people to stay away from the water, except for experienced surfers.

"We are afraid the people who are not experienced, but are coming to look at the big surf, will all want to touch the water," he said. "That's how they get in trouble, and we just don't have enough lifeguards to help everybody."

Shark's Cove and Three Tables near Waimea were especially dangerous, he said.

Cunningham said ambulances responded to two surfers who sustained minor injuries yesterday. One incident was believed to be connected to the Eddie Aikau surf meet, while the other occurred before the start of competition.

In the surf-meet incident, professional surfer Michael Ho was injured in the afternoon as he was returning to shore following his heat.

A wave spun his surfboard into his back, which knocked the wind out of him.

City lifeguards said he suffered a small bruise.

The surf peaked at high tide early yesterday, at 3:49 a.m., causing water to cross roads.

"It seems to have peaked out overnight," Howe said.

City lifeguards yesterday kept people off beaches where surf was washing up to the vegetation line, Cunningham said.

The huge crowd that gathered for the Eddie Aikau also created a "horrendous" traffic jam on Kamehameha Highway, forcing some motorists to park their cars and walk, Howe said.

At one point, he was told it took about an hour and a half to drive from Haleiwa to Waimea, a distance of about six miles.


Star-Bulletin writer Suzanne Tswei
contributed to this report.

E-mail to City Desk

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