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High surf on North Shore Oahu to thrill while safety is urged

Susan Essoyan, Star Bulletin  Dec 07, 2009

Surfers sliced across 20-foot waves yesterday in a warm-up at Waimea Bay for the Quiksilver in memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, likely to take place early this week.

But while big-wave riders are looking forward to the surf, Civil Defense officials warn that they may close roads and beach access along Oahu's North Shore tonight because of the potentially dangerous conditions.

Forecasters say the swell could be the biggest in decades. A high-surf warning is in effect through Wednesday. Breakers of 30 to 40 feet are expected to pound the North Shore, with 50-foot waves hitting the outer reef, according to meteorologist Ian Morrison of the National Weather Service.

The long-awaited Eddie Aikau surf meet could be tomorrow, Tuesday or Wednesday -- with Tuesday looking like possibly the best day, contest director George Downing said yesterday.

The meet requires consistent waves exceeding 20 feet over the course of the day, conditions that haven't been met in the last five years. Downing expects to be up at 4:30 a.m. tomorrow checking the surf.

"Sometimes the weather front gets too close, and there's too much impact and you've got to let it settle down," Downing said yesterday. "When you get too much surf in that bay, it's like a washing machine. It's not safe."

The current swell is expected to decline slightly today with a new, bigger swell predicted to arrive sometime tonight and build into tomorrow.

Sunset Beach was closed out yesterday with surf that was too big and messy for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing/O'Neill World Cup, which was scheduled to finish today.

BIG-WAVE VIRTUOSOS strutted their style at Waimea Bay as spectators perched on highway railings and sprawled in the sand to ogle them.

Nissen Osterneck, a martial artist from Kula, Maui, surfed for about an hour at Waimea before his leash snapped, and he got a timely lift from a lifeguard on a motorized watercraft.

"It was pretty exhilarating, about a 15-foot drop," he said. "I made the drop and then I fell on the flat. I swam out of the impact zone and a Jet Ski picked me up and took me to my board, and I paddled in."

He added: "Waimea breaks only once in a while; It's like a party out there. Monday should be giant. It should be really good."

Yellow tape roped off many North Shore beaches yesterday, starting at Laniakea and heading toward Waimea. Bryan Cheplic, spokesman for the city Department of Emergency Services, said lifeguards on the north and west shores made nearly 1,000 verbal warnings and made "numerous assists " with their motorized watercraft, but didn't have to rescue anyone. The Honolulu Fire Department posted a rescue helicopter at the Kahuku Fire Station.

"Ocean Safety really wants to thank the public for their cooperation and the reason why is we did zero rescues today on both north and west shorelines," Cheplic said. "However, we went to remind the public that there is a larger and potentially more dangerous swell coming, so we're asking for their continued cooperation."

At Waimea, Aikau contest veteran Dennis Pang said yesterday provided just the right preview for competitors.

"It's a really good warm-up size for the contest -- a lot of the people out there today are in the Eddie," Pang said, toting his 10-foot board after his session in the surf yesterday. "It's pretty exciting."

"There are some good waves," added Pang, who isn't competing this year. "You've got to put your head down and just do it."

Duane and Nadine Binkley of Winterville, N.C., spent their last morning in Hawaii at Waimea Bay, after completing a cruise of the islands.

"We're just getting ready to go home today -- what a finale!" Nadine Binkley said. "I don't think there's anything like it in the world."

From a spot in the shade, Hawaii Kai resident Julie Wassel trained her camera on the surfers at Waimea. She had come up for Thursday's opening ceremony for the Eddie Aikau, which is marking its 25th anniversary this year.

"This is absolutely amazing, to see the force of Mother Nature and the beauty, and to see these guys out there trying to take her on," Wassel said. "It doesn't look like much, and then all of a sudden, these magnificent monster waves just come through."

BUSINESS WAS BRISK at nearby shops. Starbucks Coffee at Pupukea was pumping, and bracing for bigger crowds in the coming days.

"It's been busy all day," barista Jazz Reynon said yesterday. "My co-worker said there were people waiting to come in this morning when she opened at 5 o'clock."

Tony Dela Cruz, an artist for 808 Urban, came down from his home in Whitmore to watch the ocean. "I just love waves," he said. "This is what I paint the most." He said he's looking forward to tomorrow, whose surf could rival the huge sets that came in during the winter of 1969.

High surf on North Shore Oahu to thrill while safety is urged
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