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When Surfing Is Just Swell

Sea: High waves stirred up by a storm far to the north pound Ventura County beaches.


Ankle-deep in Pacific Ocean foam, Ron Zachow tucked his surfboard under his arm and wiped a thick froth of salt water from his goatee.

Zachow was one of the few hearty souls who battled choppy seas and churning currents Wednesday in their quest to ride the first big waves of 2002 along the Ventura County coast.

"It's like being a salmon swimming upriver," Zachow, 37, said as he emerged from four hours of riding waves between Emma Wood State Beach and Rincon Beach. "It's the kind of day where you're glad it's not your third day ever on a surfboard. I was nervous, and I've been surfing for 20 years."

Sets of waves as big as 12 feet were reported off several stretches of Ventura County coastline Wednesday but had tapered off by the early evening, said officials at the National Weather Service.

High tides flooded several campgrounds facing the water, and in some areas near Faria Beach, homeowners hired bulldozers to shore up muddy sand washed up by the tide and high waves.

The high surf, which started pounding local beaches Tuesday, was stirred up by a large winter storm off the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

As the storm moves east and is replaced by an offshore flow, waves of 4 feet to 6 feet will continue to hit along shore break points at least through the weekend, said Bruce Rockwell of the National Weather Service office in Oxnard.

"It's certainly not been a day for amateurs," Rockwell said of the surfing conditions.

The skies will remain mostly clear through Sunday, with daytime highs along the coast in the upper 60s.

Inland areas will experience a warming trend that could see 80-degree days in some spots by the weekend, Rockwell said.

Even with clear skies and a bright sun, few boaters ventured beyond the rocky breakwater at Ventura Harbor.

One who did was Capt. Dave Delano of Vessel Assist, who was trying out a new fiberglass boat.

"We got airborne going over the first wave," said Delano, who operates a boat towing service from a dock near the entrance to the harbor. "It's nasty out there."

Zachow and others hungry for high surf took a different approach Wednesday.

"We follow the big waves," said Matt Rapf, who drove up the coast from Malibu with Zachow to catch the big sets. "You have a lot of people calling in sick today."

As the two friends were finishing up for the day, freelance writer Ted Reckas was about to paddle to breakers crashing near a reef about half a mile out.

Most of the year, wave riding along the Ventura Coast is just average, he said.

But in the winter a dedicated surfer willing to paddle out to a remote spot far from lifeguards or other people can bank on some of the best waves on the West Coast, he said.

"It gets strong and disorderly," Reckas said as he waded into the surf. "It's complete chaos."

And he wasn't waiting around to take advantage of it.

"Right now the surf is big, but tomorrow it could be back to 2 feet."

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