Sneaker Set: Massive West Coast swell has Southern California surfers asking, “Has it ever been bigger?”

posted by / Photos / February 25, 2008

It left as quick as it arrived. Plowing past Point Conception on Sunday morning, lighting up the Gold Coast points by brunch, awakening Palos Verdes’ sleepy reefs by lunchtime and bombing San Diego and {{{Baja}}} by late afternoon. And after it all went down, after we caught our breaths and watched our normally tranquil coastline deflate back to normal, we had to ask: “What the hell just happened?”



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Old timers at the Ranch called it the biggest swell since 1969 – and they weren’t having LSD flashbacks. They closed the harbor at Santa Barbara’s Sandspit after two spectators got washed off the breakwall. Surfers also admitted – for the first time ever – that Sandspit was actually too big, washing through with a 15-knot current. Rincon looked like the 1981 Easter Classic at Bells. Dan Malloy and Vaughn Montgomery surfed Ventura Overhead in the afternoon and called it a legitimate “12 feet plus.” “I rode my 9’2”,” said Dan, “and it’s funny for me to even say this. But some of the sets I caught out there felt just like the Outer Reefs I was surfing on the North Shore last week. Hands down, biggest waves I’ve ever surfed in Ventura.” The list goes on. At Black’s, thick, long-period lines started pouring at 4 p.m., turning a day that started at waist-high and wimpy to 20-foot faces and triple-black diamond. Allen Johnson, Shane Valiere, Aram Benjamin and Dylan Slater got their share of bombs before the fading light ended their session way too prematurely. And then there was Greg Long and Mike Parsons, who calculated the swell’s arrival and let it come to them at Todos. It was head high at 2 p.m. and, according to Greg, 40-foot faces at dark. “I can’t even imagine how big it got overnight,” he said.

The storm was an anomaly. This wasn’t your typical, form in the western Pacific, light up Hawaii, then give us a nice, long period punch. This thing formed well east of Hawaii. Looking straight down the barrel at Point Conception and sustaining high winds just 400 miles off the coast. In other words, it was the type of storm that generated surf beyond normal capacity. While NorCal saw some of the biggest buoys ever recorded (27 feet at 20 seconds at Half Moon Bay), it was plagued by howling south winds and storm surf. On the other hand, Southern California gradually cleared to light winds and then an eerie, dead, calm by the afternoon. The swell continued bombing through Monday morning, but by mid-day, it was well on its way out.

It happened so fast, many of us are still wondering if it really happened. But then we look at our snapped leashes, our broken boards and our bruised ribs and we are reminded. Yes, it really did happen. During this supposedly La Nina winter that was supposed to be the worst ever with no rain, no storms and minimal swell, we’ve had two swells in the “record book” category and countless others in the “solid” column. We’ve had the Maverick’s contest. XXL contenders. Many classic moments at Rincon. And a wealth of other tales from the trenches. If anything, this latest swell – and this winter overall — proves that the good ol’ days are still happening right now. It also proves you should never trust your weatherman.

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