Surf's way up

In the news

Posted: Thursday, December 16, 2004

HALEIWA, Hawaii (AP) — Giant waves crashed along the North Shore of Oahu on Wednesday, leaving sand and debris on roadways and prompting officials to close beaches as waves reached 40 feet and higher.

But amid the debris, world-class surfers gathered for a rare big-wave surfing competition that occurs only when such enormous waves sweep the island's coast.

Kelly Slater, a former world champion and one of the 24 elite surfers invited to surf the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, described the waves at Waimea Bay as ''giant.''

''I don't think I've seen it like this,'' Slater said.

The competition is held only when the waves reach giant proportions — only six times in the last 19 years.

Wave heights were reported to peak Wednesday morning between 30 and 40 feet at Waimea Bay. Forecasters had earlier predicted 50-foot faces.

The water began coming ashore before dawn, crossing roads and leaving sand and debris in its wake, prompting officials to close a portion of Kamehameha Highway in the North Shore town of Haleiwa until 11 a.m.

''Big surf is supposed to be big business,'' said Rebekah Horner, manager of the Haleiwa Chevron. ''I thought I'd be super busy this morning but with the road closed that sort of cancels everything out.

''Tourists, surfers, a lot of people from all over come to see the surf when it's this big.''

The seaside Surf N Sea surf and dive shop had minor flooding, but still opened at its normal time of 9 a.m.

''There's a lot of sand on the road,'' sales clerk Jake Gomez said as he helped clean the water off the store floor. ''Business is going to be kind of slow today until they open the road.''

The National Weather Service warned of high surf on north-facing shores of all islands except Lanai until Wednesday night. But the exact height of the waves coming on shore was difficult to gauge.

''When it's this big, its hard to tell for sure exactly how big the waves are because they tend to break out off shore on outer reefs,'' said Tom Birchard, a meteorologist with the federal agency.

A buoy 200 miles northwest of Kauai recorded an open ocean swell of 26 feet, he said. By the time that swell gets closer to the islands, waves can top 35 to 50 feet, he said.

In the past, such high surf has damaged beachfront homes and left beachside roads and highways littered with debris.

Capt. George Ku of the Sunset Beach fire station said his crew had not been called out on a single surf-related emergency as of 8 a.m., two hours after the peak.

''I guess everyone was prepared and took the high-surf warnings seriously, thank goodness,'' Ku said.

Oahu Civil Defense advised residents to avoid the beaches and stay out of the water, but crowds began gathering before dawn at Waimea Bay Beach Park for big wave surf contest.

The surf competition is named for Eddie Aikau, a big-wave surfing legend, who was lost in 1978 when an ocean-going canoe he was on capsized. Aikau attempted to swim for help and was never seen again.

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On the Net:

National Weather Service: http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov

Eddie Aikau Invitational: http://www.quiksilver.com/eddie—aikau—04/



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