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Ventura County

Ventura Surf's Up--Way Up

Weather: The season's largest swells, courtesy of a tropical offshore system, draw hundreds of wave-seekers after a ho-hum summer.


After an entire summer of flat, ho-hum waves, nothing was going to keep Bob Smiley out of the water Thursday morning.

Not even work.

The 46-year-old systems engineer from Thousand Oaks traded his shirt and tie for a wetsuit and headed to Ventura's Surfers Point, where swells fueled by Tropical Storm Herman reached 5 to 6 feet.

He got there at 8:30 a.m. and stayed until about noon.

"I plan meetings around when the surf's up," said Smiley, who has been surfing since 1969. "It's been a pretty crummy summer--this is one of the best swells we've had."

Smiley was one of hundreds who flocked to the famed point near Seaside Park in Ventura on Thursday, hoping to get a piece of the higher-than-normal surf that has pounded the coastline since Wednesday.

Although the waves were not as towering as those in other parts of Southern California, they still drew a steady stream of surfers and onlookers.

Swells reaching up to 8 feet are expected on Ventura's south-facing beaches through today as the tropical storm remains about 800 miles southwest of Point Conception, said Bruce Rockwell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Even in the middle of a weekday, the drizzly gray coastline was dotted with dozens of die-hard wave-seekers.

"When the surf's up like this, all the old hard-core ones come out of the woodwork," said Carrie Johnson, a lifeguard at San Buenaventura State Beach.

The less hard-core also ventured out Thursday, including 11-year-old Brent McMahan of Port Hueneme.

Looking a little weary, the boy happily set his board down on the beach and reached for a soda as he took a break from a two-hour session.

"I lost control of the board," Brent said, still catching his breath. "It was pretty rough."

His dad, Gary McMahan, who has been surfing for 30 years, said he wants to teach his son to love the sport as much as he does. And there is no better place to learn than Surfers Point, he said.

"All the people who are serious about surfing come here," he said.

Raul Sandoval, a 20-year-old student at Oxnard College, usually surfs at Silver Strand Beach but decided to come to Ventura when he saw the surf report.

"They call this Surfers Point, right?" he said. "I can see why."

Winds made the surf choppy, which made it difficult to get out of the breakwater, Sandoval said. But once he did, he said, it was worth it.

"The bigger the wave, the bigger the rush," he said.

UC Santa Barbara student Nicole Framberger also prefers big waves. Luckily, she is still in summer session and didn't have class Thursday.

"Since the surf has been so small, any time anyone hears there's a swell coming in, people flock to the beach," she said. "I don't blame them. I heard there was a swell and I came out."

Despite the crowds, lifeguards and surfers reported no problems or major injuries Thursday.

"Today, there are enough waves for everybody," Smiley said.

While the offshore storm was a boon to surfers, it generated only a light drizzle over Ventura County--not enough to ease the extreme fire danger that has come from an unusually dry spring and summer, said Sandi Wells, spokeswoman for the Ventura County Fire Department.

Even worse, she said, forecasts Thursday called for possible thunderstorms through today. "Our concern with this weather would be small amounts of rain and lightning strikes," Wells said. "That would be a problem."

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