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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 10, 2004

Big winter waves headed for O'ahu

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The biggest waves of the winter, which lifeguards call "extra large," were forecast to begin hitting O'ahu's North Shore overnight, but yesterday the buzz of excitement already has washed up the beach and right through the surf-charged consciousness of people who live there.

The first of four big swells was to arrive sometime after midnight. The National Weather Service predicted wave faces of 20 to 30 feet today.

A second swell is expected Monday, a third one Thursday that could reach 40 feet and a fourth swell next Friday or Saturday.

It was the only topic of conversation at Sunset Beach, said Waimea Bay resident Jodi Young.

"It's always really exciting," she said. "Your bed shakes against the wall. You can hear the rocks being moved around underwater. The place does rattle and roll, no two ways about it."

But waves this large are dangerous, even for people who never set foot in the ocean. Young said she probably would move backyard furniture and other loose objects so they wouldn't be swept out to sea.

"We're looking at 20 to 30 feet," said Henry Lau, a marine forecaster for the weather service. "There is a very good chance that it will wash up on beaches."

Yesterday, the weather service issued a high surf warning for northwest-facing shores of all islands. Although the largest surf will hit northwest shores of O'ahu and Kaua'i, wave faces of 15 to 25 feet are expected on northwest-facing shores of all other islands.

North Shore lifeguards are bracing for the impact.

"We're battening down the hatches," said lifeguard Lt. Pat Kelly, a veteran of many North Shore winters. "Anybody who has been around this winter and hasn't seen it, this will be the first series of events in the extra-large category."

People wanting to see the waves should avoid beaches without lifeguards and areas close to the ocean, he said. Because not every wave is large enough to wash ashore, people are lured to the edge and can be swept to their deaths when a larger wave arrives, Kelly said.

Southwest winds could wreak havoc for surfers, he said, although sometimes they just miss North Shore spots.

"It could be big and glassy enough to hold the Eddie Aikau," he said.

And if big waves are on North Shore minds, "the Eddie" is just a half-thought behind.

Young, who helps organize The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, said she had been getting telephone calls for two days from surfers as far away as Australia, ready to catch the first flight to Hawai'i.

The contest is held only when 20-foot open ocean swells produce wave faces of 30 feet or more at Waimea Bay.

"One of these swells could potentially be an Eddie swell," she said. "There is anticipation. The residents are the first to think about it, and from there, the word goes out. It is around the world already."

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.