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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 26, 2005

Island surf forecasts just got better

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

The days of lolling in the waves, waiting for ridable surf, may be over now that two weather buoys near the Islands have been upgraded.

The new buoys are expected to provide more accurate weather information, particularly on wave activity from the northwest.

And that will come in handy to surfers like Kaua'i's Ross Barker, who checks the National Weather Service's buoy information daily.

Barker, 55, owns Dr. Ding's Westside Surf Shop in Hanapepe and has been surfing for more than 40 years. He said the more accurate data will allow surfers to head to the right surfing spot.

"The amount of westerly or northerly slant is significant," Barker said.

The Coast Guard recently replaced Buoy 1, 120 miles northwest of Kaua'i, and another buoy 200 miles southwest of O'ahu.

The old Buoy 1 gave forecasters standard data, such as wind speed, direction and pressure, as well as wave heights. But the improvements will tell forecasters where the waves are coming from and where they are headed.

"Now with the swell direction, we can be much more confident as to whether that swell will actually hit the Islands, and if so, what part of the Islands will be more impacted," said National Weather Service forecaster Andy Nash.

Nash said that information will come in handy during the winter months when surf from the northwest can reach dangerous heights. By knowing the direction of the swells, he said, forecasters will be able to more accurately "pinpoint which islands are going to be more at risk."

"There were a couple of times last year when we thought, 'Well, here comes a big swell and all the islands are going to get hit.' But it ended up hitting mainly Kaua'i and then Kaua'i kind of shadowed the rest of the island chain," Nash said.

"So people on O'ahu said they thought there was going to be big surf. But we were just trying to take a guess and 10 or 20 degrees can make a big difference."

It takes about five to eight hours after the buoy records the information for the surf to reach Kaua'i, and between eight and 12 hours to reach O'ahu, Nash said. With that in mind, surfers like Barker often can check the weather service's Web site at night and wake up the next morning knowing where the good surf will be.

For old-timers like Barker, however, knowing the wave heights ahead of time can take the fun out of surfing. It's sort of like knowing what you're getting for Christmas, he said.

"It seemed totally natural to go to the beach and see what we found. In some ways that was better," Barker said.

"You have the anticipation every time you went to the beach of the possibility of finding good surf. You never knew if you would find good surf or average or none. But there was always the possibility that it would be great."

Reach Curtis Lum at 525-8025 or culum@honoluluadvertiser.com