The mega swell that bombarded Southern California from Wednesday of last week through Labor Day with the biggest summer waves in more than a decade began life south of New Zealand off of Antarctica.
“Winds in the storm blew solidly at 55+ knots for 36 hours over a large fetch [area of open water] area resulting in 36 hours of significant seas at 50-52 feet,” Mark Sponsler of Stormsurf told . “I haven't seen seas that high in a southern hemi storm in a very long time, if not ever.”
The swell hit the Billabong Pro Tahiti on Aug. 27 like a bomb. Due to the extreme size of the swell, the contest was shut down for safety reasons. According to Surfline, a bevy of big-wave chargers like Bruce Irons, Koby Abberton, Nathan Fletcher and Keala Kennelly were hurled into 30 foot monsters at Tahiti’s infamous Teahupo’o reef.
As a contestant in the Billabong Pro, San Clemente’s was a witness to the swell-induced carnage in Tahiti.
“I'd say that was one of the more challenging events I’ve competed in,” said Gudauskas who placed 25th overall in Tahiti and is 33rd in the ASP World Title rankings. “Teahupo'o is crazy cause it sucks out so fast. Fractions of seconds make the difference from eating it or getting the barrel of your life.”
The first sets of the swell pounded southern California beaches on Wednesday, Aug. 31. That morning Kelly Kraus, Jeff Wallis, and I watched a way overhead ten-wave set break along the northern edges of the Tijuana Sloughs reef just north of the U.S.-Mexico border in Imperial Beach.
Around the same time reported seeing a large multi-wave set hit Huntington Beach as well. “Some spots will peak on the longer periods by refracting all that energy,” Collins said.
On Wednesday evening, WiLDCOAST’s Ben McCue, who is working with local surfers and environmentalists to establish a surfing reserve and state park at San Miguel in Baja California, surfed there with longtime local surfer and environmentalist Yo Yo.
“It was double overhead with eight foot wave sets,” said McCue, who said he helped a local surfer who was pummeled by a set wave, lost his board and was unable to swim to shore.
San Diego ripper Sean Fowler and John Olsen were also at San Miguel on Thursday. “It was wrapping all the way in,” Fowler said.
“On Thursday,” said Matuse team rider and WiLDCOAST staffer Zach Plopper, “Solana Beach was as good as I’ve ever surfed it on a south swell.”
Plopper spent the rest of the swell in remote Baja surfing perfect point waves.
Meanwhile in La Jolla, “There were a few walls that stretched from Big Rock to Little Point,” said longtime surfer Forrester Thom.
Newport Beach Lifeguard Scott Lambert made the trek to Trestles on Thursday, the same day that giant set waves pounded Orange County and Malibu, resulting in epic surfing conditions and coastal flooding.
“Wedge waves were maxing more than twenty feet and it was ten feet elsewhere in Newport Beach,” Lambert said. “At high tide on Balboa Island, the A Street parking lot was flooded with waves coming over the berm. The water reached all the way across Balboa Boulevard into the harbor.”
Lifeguards in Newport, spent most of the swell herding crowds away from danger areas into “safe zones,” Lambert said.
Although Malibu was the spot to be on this swell, “It was a metaphor for this crowded world with too many people fighting for too scant a resource,” said surf scribe Ben Marcus.
According to press reports, surfers in the lineup on Thursday at Malibu’s Surfrider Beach included Kelly Slater, Ken Bradshaw, Allen Sarlo, Herbie Fletcher, Brad Gerlach and Joel Tudor.
On Saturday morning I surfed a San Diego beach that only comes alive on big south swells with my teenage sons Israel and Daniel. We picked off a few overhead corners with a local crew that included Mark Stone, Dave Lopez, Greg Broadfoot, Joey Fallon, Matt Field, Andrew and Jack Alldredge, Dave and Jim Montabano, Josh Johnson, Jim Scanlon and Chris Holder.
“It was the best it’s been in a decade,” said Tom Christiansen who also scored epic waves near Cojo Point earlier in the week.
Early Sunday morning, my sons and I hitched a ride out to Point Loma on a 20’ inflatable captained by San Clemente orthodontist and Coronado resident, Dr. Ed Henken. We dawn patrolled super fun 2-4’ rights with Ed’s children, Hans, Sterling and Paris.
By Labor Day the swell was dissipating and unusual rain showers scattered beach crowds.
All in all it was an excellent week to be a surfer in Southern California with large waves reminding us of the relentless power of the Pacific Ocean.
“I really love those kind of waves and conditions,” said Gudauskas from New York City where he is currently competing in the Quiksilver Pro New York. “I really look forward to the challenge of the bigger days. That energy always fuels my fire.”
Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and the author of Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.