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Hernan Sends It, Surfers Ride It in South O.C.

Sport: The tropical storm powers the best waves in years, some as high as 18 feet. The shores crowd with spectators, the brave and the foolhardy.

September 05, 2002|DAVID HALDANE and DAN WEIKEL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Hundreds of spectators gathered at southern Orange County beaches Wednesday to watch in awe as die-hard surfers braved the biggest waves in at least five years.

The most dramatic scene was at the Wedge, Newport Beach's legendary surf spot at the tip of Balboa Peninsula, where some waves towered as high as 18 feet.

"It's been rather impressive," said Capt. John Blauer, a spokesman for the Newport Beach Lifeguard Department.

Veteran surfer John Mayo, 59, of Huntington Beach came to watch the action. "On really big days it can take your breath away," he said.

The enormous swells were the result of Hernan, a tropical storm about 850 miles southwest of San Diego that is forecast to produce big waves through Friday as it moves northwest.

"It mainly means high surf and a 40% to 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms on Friday, with lessening chances into Saturday," said Noel Isla, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego. "We're just advising the public that there'll be higher-than-usual waves, and to be careful if they're out in the water because there could also be rip currents."

That certainly was the case at Huntington Beach, where relatively few surfers entered the water despite 6-to 9-foot swells--three times higher than normal. The reason, lifeguards said, was a strong side current at 5 to 7 mph. "The way the waves were breaking in our area

In Newport Beach, where the surf was 8 to 10 feet, lifeguards pulled 30 to 40 people out of the water.

"Most of it was proactive," Blauer said. "We were preventing people from getting into trouble. Today was one of those days reserved for experienced surfers."

That was especially true at the Wedge, where waves tend to hit a jetty, bounce off and collide with the waves behind them, doubling their height, he said.

"There is no other place like this in the world," said Marvin Wilson, 48, a veteran bodysurfer, as he prepared to swim out and test his skills. "You've got to take advantage of this while it's here."

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Times staff writer Vivian LeTran contributed to this report.

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