A Swell Time On Big Tuesday

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - September 07, 2011
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Monster South Shore surf brought out spectators

If your office or classroom was missing a few people last week, chances are the ocean played a role in that. Summer 2011 went out with a bang with one of the largest south swells in many years. Mother Nature certainly saved her best for last, and employers weren’t pleased.

It was Big Tuesday on the South and West shores thanks to a powerful winter storm off New Zealand. It was by far the biggest swell of the summer some were even calling it the biggest summer swell in more than 15 years.

“I know guys out there who called in sick for this one,” laughed surfer Jimmy Shinsato at Ala Moana Beach. “They’re avoiding you because they played hooky from work and they not supposed to be here.”

This one even triggered a high surf warning with waves in the 10to 15foot range, normally seen during winter swells on the North Shore. A high surf warning means there are dangerous rip currents present, and beachgoers and inexperienced surfers should stay out of the water.

The waves got so high, the entrance to Kewalo Basin was even shut down to boat traffic for an entire day. Most heeded the warning, but a few ventured out only to turn back when large sets rolled in.

Surf along the Leeward coast of Oahu reached 10 feet at some breaks with occasional higher sets. The state Department of Transportation responded to calls of sand and debris washing onto Farrington Highway in Makaha.

Everybody’s looking for a place to go at Ala Moana Bowls. Terry Reis photos

A decision was made to add seven additional city lifeguards to the 23 already staffed to man South Shore beaches. The decision may have saved lives. Lifeguards were pressed into action with 315 assists or rescues before sunset.

“Every other tower on our South Shore is manned with a second person,” said Capt. Paul Merino of the city’s ocean safety division. “That allows us to have someone in the water and someone manning a tower. They’re busy as heck, but knock on wood so far things are going well.”

The Honolulu Fire Department’s Air One also assisted with the day’s work, providing rescuers with a different view of potential problems.

The swell kept lifeguards busy. Terry Reis photo

“They can spot the person in trouble and pinpoint us and the Jet Ski where to go,” said HFD Capt. Todd Hugo. “There’s a lot of wind very dangerous for our guys out there.”

Dozens of other rescues went unreported as fellow surfers did their part rescuing their own.

Sadly, the swell also may have contributed to the disappearance of a scuba diver off Kahala. Matthew Curley of New York City went missing during a tour with Island Divers at a spot known as Baby Barge. Search crews found a fin that likely belonged to Curley.

“It just helped to confirm that the diver was in that general vicinity,” said HFD Capt. Terry Seelig. “We always want to hold that hope out. Our hearts go out to the family and the stress that they’re under right now.”

This late in August swell is definitely doing its thing,” added Merino.

The late August storm was also doing its thing in Tahiti, where the ASP World Tour declared conditions at world-famous Teahupoo a code red, meaning the waves were too large and breaking too quickly to be caught by paddling. Towin surfers took center stage at the break in what was described as the most incredible and intense big-wave session ever recorded. To see incredible highlights of nature’s fierce power go to: http://www.grindtv.com/surf/ blog/29902/in+massive+tahi tian+waves+the+most+incre dible+day+of+surfing+ever/.

The last summer swell was big and nasty at times. It was a reminder of the strength of nature and the importance of our lifesavers. Winter is just around the corner.

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