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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 28, 2006

North Shore eager for waves to start rolling in

By Will Hoover
Advertiser North Shore Writer

All over the North Shore, folks are gearing up for some high surf expected tomorrow afternoon.

"Heck yes, I'm ready," said Gil Riviere, who heads the Let's Surf Coalition on the North Shore. "Everybody's ready. It's time this is surf season. And there are no surf contests this weekend, so that will be great. Everyone's excited about this."

Compared to the fabled 20- to 40-foot or higher winter waves for which the North Shore is world famous, the coming offering will be small surf faces in the 12-foot range or smaller. But those would be a far cry from the flat-to-knee-high waves the North Shore experienced earlier this week, following a tiny-wave summer that lasted longer than surfers here expected.

"It's not going to be what you think of as giant North Shore, but there should be enough to keep the surfers happy," said Pat Caldwell, surf forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "This could be 8- to 14-foot waves on the face."

"The 12-foot wave face, that's kind of the benchmark where we know we're back in action," said Caldwell. "We have not seen that this year on the North Shore. There's good odds that we'll see it by Friday afternoon and on Saturday all day. Whether we'll see the 16-foot faces which is the next category up is a little bit iffy. But it's not out of the question."

According to Caldwell's surf data, over the past three decades the opening of the North Shore's surf season the day its wave faces reach the 12-foot-or-higher mark normally lands on Sept. 17.

"So we're a little bit late, based on that 30-year record," he said.

While the North Shore and Sunset Beach will have the highest waves, Kaua'i will also see elevated surf faces and, to a lesser extent, so will Maui and Moloka'i, said National Weather Service lead forecaster Ray Tanabe. The Big Island will have somewhat elevated swells along west-facing shores, he said.

Like most everyone on the North Shore, Jodi Young, media director for Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, was more than ready for the opening of the season. Still, she acknowledged that big waves can equal big headaches for North Shore residents such as herself.

"But, if you've got to have a problem anywhere in the world, this is a great place to have it," said Young. "And our problem is traffic, obviously. The beauty of having our old two-lane Kamehameha Highway is that it does put a lid on things to some degree. It will be responsible for keeping some people away, it will turn some people away from cars to bikes and scooters, and it will moderate the amount of traffic that can get in.

"There's only so much you can do with one lane in and one lane out."

News of big waves has surfers waxing poetic as well as waxing their boards, said veteran North Shore lifeguard Pat Kelly.

"People will be going for it full bore," he said.

But Kelly issued a stern warning to newcomers to the area especially those who've spent the summer diving at locations such as the placid waters at Sharks Cove.

"This will be the first substantial swell of the 2006-2007 winter season so beware," said Kelly. "It's not going to be like it was last weekend. It's not going to be like it was every other weekend this whole summer.

"Some people don't understand the danger of the waves and so they go ahead with their planned dive anyway. And then they get caught in the rip current and can't make it back where they were, and so they try to come up on the rocks and get hammered, and then we have to go out and get them."

Likewise, beginning surfers should use extreme caution, he said.

"Another danger is people who've just learned how to surf this summer and think they're going to go out. And they're all confused by all the wave heights everybody's talking about. And then they just go out there anyway. And then we end up having to save them, too."

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.