NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Thundering surf spawned by a Pacific hurricane pounded the Southern California coast Wednesday, causing minor flooding in a low-lying beach town while drawing daredevil surfers and bodyboarders into churning, 20-foot waves as crowds of spectators lined the shore.
Despite the danger, surfers, bodyboarders and bodysurfers flocked to favorite spots such as the notorious Wedge at Newport Beach, where the interaction of swells and a jetty produced huge waves, and cars were backed up for miles along the only road to the narrow peninsula.
Big crowds watched surfers in the morning, while bodysurfers took on the surf in the afternoon.
Among them was Joshua Magner, 35, who has been surfing since he was 10, and said being in the water in Wednesday’s waves was life-altering.
“It’s like being born,” he said as he zipped his wetsuit and prepared to go back out. “You don’t know what the outcome will be, but when you do make it through, all that pressure is alleviated, it’s liberation, truly the feeling of liberation.”
Asked if he was afraid, he replied, “I was scared leaving my house. Dude, I was scared last night. I couldn’t sleep.”
Some gawkers had to park nearly 2 miles away and walk to the scene. One man rode a skateboard, carrying a baby. A man put a sign on his car offering his parking space for cash and another was selling commemorative T-shirts for $20 apiece.
Lifeguards up and down the coast sought to keep anyone out of the water who did not have strong experience and were kept busy making rescues all day.
In Malibu, a surfer died a day earlier after being pulled from the water, but it was not clear whether the death was related to the surf or a medical condition. There were 60 rescues Wednesday in the area.
Residents of about four blocks of homes along Seal Beach, south of Los Angeles, swept seawater from ground-floor rooms after flooding overnight, and bulldozers reinforced a 6-foot-tall sand berm hastily built to protect shoreline structures.
The towering waves and rip currents were being produced by swells generated by Hurricane Marie in the Pacific Ocean about 800 miles west of the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. While Hurricane-generated waves reached California’s shores, the storm itself would remain far from the state.
Marie will likely weaken to tropical storm levels, but life-threatening water conditions were expected to continue through today.
Two cargo terminals at the Port of Long Beach stopped operations late Tuesday because surging, 10- to 15-foot-high waves endangered dockworkers.