The gift of surf


POSTED: Saturday, December 26, 2009

On a day when giant surf pounded Oahu's North Shore, one wave at Waimea Bay stood above the rest.

“;It broke about 100 yards outside of the surfers,”; said one lifeguard who estimated the freak wave at higher than 40 feet (face value).

“;Everybody in the lineup was cleaned,”; the lifeguard said.

Ocean Safety Lt. John Hoogsteden said about 20 surfers were in the water and that some 10 boards were damaged or broken by the wave.

In the aftermath, lifeguards on a personal watercraft pulled about 15 surfers out of the ocean.

“;It was the biggest wave,”; said Sylvain Cazenave, who was taking photos when the wave hit at about 1:30 p.m. yesterday.

Cazenave, who has been visiting the North Shore from France every year since 1980, said the surfers could not get out of its way.

“;Those guys were paddling very fast, but they all got nailed,”; he said. “;Many boards were broken.”;

Whether it was to ride the monster waves or to watch others try, thousands flocked to the North Shore.

“;It's the kind of high surf that we only get once or twice a year,”; said Ocean Safety Capt. Bodo Van Der Leeden, of the North Shore district.

Some waves at Waimea Bay were coming in with 40-foot faces, he said. “;That's as good as it gets at Waimea.”;

Other North Shore beaches were washed out because the waves were too big, Van Der Leeden said.

A storm in the Pacific to the north of Hawaii with hurricane-force winds generated the Christmas Day surf, which is expected to decrease today to 15 to 25 feet along Oahu's North Shore and 10 to 20 feet along the West Shore.

Surf will continue falling tomorrow, but two large northwest swells are coming in behind it: one on Monday and another in time for New Year's Day, said Sam Houston, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service.

On the North Shore, lifeguards allowed only experienced surfers into the water and put up caution tape along the beaches. All North Shore beaches were closed for swimming.

Still, lifeguards were busy. On the island's north and west sides, lifeguards gave 2,400 warnings, made 25 rescues and assisted 20 people to shore by 3 p.m., said Honolulu Emergency Services Department spokesman Bryan Cheplic.

At least two surfers were injured at Waimea Bay. One suffered a head injury and another a hamstring injury, lifeguards said.

Traffic on Kamehameha Highway slowed to a standstill near Waimea Bay yesterday as spectators gathered along the road and at the beach to watch the surf.

But the large surf also repaired some beach erosion.

Van Der Leeden said high surf during the Eddie Aikau big-wave contest earlier this month took about 15 feet of sand from Sunset Beach, forcing the city to remove a lifeguard stand from its concrete foundation and replace it with a temporary lifeguard stand on skids.

Yesterday's swell brought back about 10 feet of sand, he said.

“;The swell brought us a Christmas present,”; he said.

Surf also pushed water over the highway at Laniakea and the Rock Piles surf spot near Ehukai Beach Park, but no roads were closed.