Surfers’ holiday wishes come true

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Waves peaked at 12 feet in some places last week. Large waves are expected in the Southern California oceans this week as well.

By Sara Rosner / Special to The Malibu Times

Cars lined both sides of Pacific Coast Highway from Topanga Canyon to County Line Beach last week as surfers enjoyed waves that were more than head high and often peaked to 12 feet in some places.

According to Surfline, a Web site that offers daily surf reports, surf contest results and other industry news, the large surf was generated by a storm that began brewing 1,200 miles off the Southern California coast on Dec. 20.

Kevin Wallis, a Surfline forecaster, wrote on the Web site that such a strong Western swell is unusual for Southern California in the winter because most swells come from the north during the colder season. The waves of a northern swell generally decrease in size as they make their way down the California coast, becoming weaker and smaller as they hit the Southland beaches.

This swell, however, hit many of Southern California’s west-facing beaches head-on. The National Weather Service issued a high surf advisory from Dec. 20 through Dec. 23, noting that the sizeable swell had caused strong rip currents and considerable beach erosion.

Piers in Santa Monica, Hermosa and Redondo Beach were closed last week as a safety precaution and the Venice Pier was also closed after one of the bathroom structures on the pier had been damaged. Bike paths in Venice and a part of a beachfront parking lot in El Segundo were also washed out during the swell.

Despite the risks, many Malibu surfers could not pass up an opportunity to get a taste of the big waves in their own backyard. Sean Kehoe, who has been surfing in Malibu for more than 30 years, kept his eyes on the waves last Thursday as he prepared to join his daughter, Kirra Kehoe, in the water at Surfrider Beach.

“Yesterday was probably one of the best days of the year here,” Sean Kehoe said. “Just being able to get these good waves here in Southern California, it’s nice when they come right to your home.”

While surfers at Surfrider Beach seemed more excited than apprehensive about the rough waters, many expressed concern about the other people out in the water.

“A lot of people come out and surf who don’t know how to surf and it makes it dangerous, ” Sean Kehoe said. “They think it looks fun but there’s a dangerous side to it. They need to take it seriously.”

When asked about the most challenging aspect of surfing in bigger waves, competitive surfer Ming Jun Brown agreed with Kehoe, saying that the other surfers could be hazardous.

“The wave is OK, but the peopleā€¦There will be six people on a wave and it’s hard to take a wave by yourself,” Brown said as she was getting out of the water at Surfrider.

Los Angeles County Rescue Boat Capt. Jay Butki said that it was important to be aware of surroundings when paddling out.

“You never underestimate the ocean and her power,” Butki said as he pulled on his wetsuit and got ready to go surfing at Surfrider Beach.

Butki also said that it was important that surfers who were visiting crowded breaks in big conditions not underestimate what could happen and to be aware of others in the water.

More big surf is expected this week as a northwestern swell begins to fill in down the coast. The Los Angeles/Oxnard office of the National Weather Service issued another high surf advisory on the morning of Dec. 27 that will stay in effect until 8 p.m. on Dec. 31 for Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. The NWS is predicting waves of up to 12 to 16 feet for these areas and Surfline forecasters are expecting Los Angeles County breaks to have sets of four to seven feet with an occasional 12-foot wave.