Best South Shore Surf Since ’79

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - August 12, 2009
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It’s epic: An unidentified surfer at Point Panic enjoys the best South Shore summer surf in 30 years

The word epic gets thrown around a lot during the summer surf season. Conditions can be epic, and so can a surf session. But can an entire summer be epic?

You’d better believe it. “The surf has been unbelievable this summer from day one,” says veteran wave rider Blaine Aweau. “I can’t remember the last time we had swell after swell after swell. It’s been epic!”

Aweau’s assessment is right on track. According to wave watchers and forecasters, this has been the best summer in Hawaii in 30 years.

“If you look just at the months of June and July, you have to go back to 1979,” says Pat Caldwell, Hawaii’s top surf forecaster. “This is as good as it gets.”

Caldwell is considered a guru when it comes to studying surf data and understanding where our summer swells come from. The latest monster swell mixed with an extreme high tide even sent waves over Farrington Highway on the Leeward coast. Caldwell says the large surf in June and July is the result of a jet stream pattern in the Southern Hemisphere.

“The jet stream comes south of New Zealand and curves up towards French Polynesia,” says Caldwell. “The surface storms do the same, and are steered by the jet stream, and you get lots of wind aimed toward Hawaii. So these swells form and they go right up to Hawaii.”

The result has been non-stop action on our southern shores all across our island chain.

“The waves are so consistent, we try to sneak in two sessions in one day if we can,” laughs surfer Kristi Okazaki. “And it’s not just the waves. The winds have been perfect, too. It’s like the stars are lined up.”

“It’s exhausting, I’m out of shape,” chuckles Aweau. “We’re getting spoiled with all the big waves, but I’m not grumbling.”

Truth is, fewer people are grumbling. One of the benefits of an amazing summer is tension in the lineup tends to ease. Ask any surfer what’s the perfect recipe for surf rage and they’ll tell you: small surf, big crowds and few waves. But when the action is this big and this consistent, it’s amazing how patient people can be. For the first time in many summers, there’s enough out there for all of us ... and some.

But while the surf has been large, so have the number of rescues made by city lifeguards. And the rescues aren’t only happening at our populated beaches. Two swimmers recently got into trouble at Spitting Caves off Portlock. The two men jumped off the rocks and quickly found themselves 100 yards offshore, unable to swim back because of the raging surf.

“Spitting Caves is not a good place to swim, especially with the open ocean and jagged coastline,” says Lt. J.R. Sloane of the city’s Ocean Safety Division. “Thanks to the quick action of my team, the men were safe.”

Lifeguards at Waikiki and Sandy Beach also have stayed busy with dozens of rescues over the last two months. Ocean safety officials remind beachgoers to respect the ocean and not be fooled by how easy experienced surfers can make the conditions look. The old saying always applies: “When in doubt, stay out.”

“Our lifeguards have been working their tails off this summer,” says Waikiki regular Phil Austin. “It’s been a wild summer.”

It’s been a wild summer, and it’s not over yet.

“In my years of surf forecasting for the South Shore of Oahu,” says Caldwell, “I’ve never seen such a consistent pattern.”

Caldwell anticipates the consistent surf will back off as the Southern Hemisphere jet stream returns to a more normal pattern. Until that happens, don’t ask where the swell is coming from, just wax up your board and enjoy. It could be another 30 years before we see it this “epic” again.

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