Twelve-foot waves are expected to crash onto Southern California's south-facing beaches today as the first major swell of the summer season hits its peak, surf forecasters said.
"When it gets to 10 feet, that's what separates the men from the boys," said longtime bodysurfer Phil Castillo, 42, as he checked out the waves at the Wedge in Newport Beach.
The first hint of the swell began arriving Monday, generated by a massive storm off South America last week that produced hurricane-force winds and 50-foot waves.
"The storm is so strong, we know that, by the time the swell gets here, there will be fairly large, hazardous conditions," said Sean Collins, chief forecaster and founder of Surfline.com, based in Huntington Beach.
Lifeguards said they were worried about strong rip currents as well as periods of calm between wave sets that could draw weaker swimmers into harm's way.
"During a lull, people go out, and the next thing you know, there are 12-foot sets out there," said Newport Beach lifeguard Tyson Beamer.
A Claremont High School student celebrating his graduation drowned June 12 after being caught in a rip current at Huntington State Beach.
Forecasters and lifeguards say a swell of this size hits only about two or three times each year.
With that in mind, Billy Brown of Newport Beach made a special trip from his usual hangout around 34th Street to the Wedge. He said he would be there today for the bigger waves.
"It should be fun because of the challenge, the adrenaline you get, the crowd here," Brown said.
Joey and Joan Valdivia, visiting from the San Joaquin Valley, also stopped by the Wedge and said they would return today.
"This is the hot spot to watch," Joann Valdivia said. "You don't get this in Fresno."