South swell has surfers, lifeguards scrambling


POSTED: Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Surfers dotted the waters along Oahu's South Shore yesterday, riding the much-anticipated first big swell of the season.

“;We've been waiting for this,”; said Chris Mercier of Kaaawa, who body-surfed at Point Panic. The waves were “;some of the best of the summer so far. ... North Shore's flat. Time to go to the South Shore.”;

;[Preview]    South Shore Swells Hit the Islands

South swell waves are rolling in and that means more people out on the beach and lifeguards warning beach-goers to be cautious.

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Many surfers did like Matt Virostko, 27, of Mililani.

“;Skipped out on work,”; he said. “;Does it get any better? Couldn't be a nicer day.”;

Surf ranged from 4- to 8-foot faces yesterday, and the swell is expected to last until tomorrow. A high-surf advisory is in effect until 6 a.m. tomorrow, according to the National Weather Service. The weather service said 5- to 8-foot surf was expected along the southern shores of all the islands through today. Surf was expected to come up again late this afternoon and early evening. It will peak overnight into tomorrow and slowly subside after that.

Body surfer Daniel Aleki, 34, of Aiea beamed as he got out of the water, telling friends he would probably be back in an hour.

“;Waves bowling from outside,”; he said describing the surf. “;It's going to get better.”;

Ocean Safety Lt. Bill Ingram said tourists and beginners who are unfamiliar with the surf conditions are especially vulnerable to the fluctuating swells.

“;You'll usually get a wave, then it'll build to a larger height as the third, fourth, fifth wave comes in,”; he said. “;But in this case we're getting some smaller waves and then some bigger sets.”;

And that's the danger.

“;It's very inviting to someone who's a beginner,”; Ingram said. “;They'll go out and say, 'It doesn't look that bad. It's 4 feet.' And then as rogue-wave sets come in, they're 6 to 8, and they're a little overwhelmed by that.”;

Lifeguards were busy yesterday, rescuing one person and assisting 40 at Waikiki Beach. They also took 355 preventive actions, such as warnings, at Waikiki and 85 at Ala Moana Beach Park, where there were no rescues or assists.

The city Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division urges beach-goers who are unfamiliar with ocean conditions to talk to lifeguards before going into the water. Swimmers and surfers are urged not to go out alone, and to swim and surf at beaches with lifeguards. If someone in the ocean is in trouble, they are told to call a lifeguard or 911.

“;If in any doubt, don't go out,”; Ingram said.

Ingram, who began as a lifeguard more than 30 years ago, said he has seen South Shore surf reach 15 to 20 feet, although that is unusual.

Ocean Safety is fully staffed and has added two relief lifeguards at Ala Moana, where a rescue craft is available to respond. There a lifeguard also scans the area on an all-terrain vehicle.

In Waikiki a spotter sits with binoculars and a radio looking for people in distress, and calls in to lifeguards on the beach, Ingram said.

David Tsuji, 53, of Nuuanu, a surfer since the 1970s, surfed Point Panic yesterday afternoon but warned it is not for the inexperienced.

“;You can't just go in there and surf,”; said Tsuji, who took up surfing again a year ago after he quit smoking and drinking. “;Waves don't look that big but it's strong.”;

Bodyboarder Brad, who did not want to give his last name since he was supposed to be at work, said the surf was “;epic,”; but also warned about the current that can “;sweep you into the boat channel.”; He recommended beginners surf easier spots and “;live to surf another day.”;