Massive waves, reaching heights up to 15 feet, pounded local shores over the past week.
A strong ocean storm somewhere off the coast of Hawaii is said to be responsible for these extraordinary swells that have had rescue agencies on high alert and the rest of the public in a state of amazement.
Surfers raced to their favorite break to cut their teeth on some of the biggest waves they had ever seen in this area, while boaters kept their distance.
“I’ve been doing this job for the last 21 years and I have to say that it was one of the three biggest days I’ve seen in my career,” said county lifeguard captain Mike McIlroy of last Wednesday’s high surf.
In a rare occurrence, on that day, the Marina del Rey harbormaster closed the exits that allow boaters access to the ocean for approximately seven hours until the seas became more safe and manageable.
The unprecedented closure was based on a recommendation of the County Fire Department/ Lifeguard chief who was involved in quite a few beach rescues on that first day the waves arrived.
“Because there was no wind, it wasn’t as perilous as it could have been,” said harbormaster Lt. Gregory Nelson, “but due to the high surf, we thought we should play it safe.”
“As far as I know, that’s the first time since the opening of the Marina that we’ve done that,” Nelson said.
While spectators lined the beaches and watched the crashing breakers in awe, the local authorities watched with apprehension.
In Carlsbad in northern San Diego County, a surfer drowned in the high surf.
A teenager in Ventura was missing after his 18-foot boat capsized.
And some of the ocean wildlife, particularly sea lions, were said to be enduring problems related to the giant swell.
Locally, the breakers damaged the Venice Pier, knocking bathrooms and a foghorn off the pier.
Two boats anchored in Ballona Creek were lifted from their anchors and tossed onto a nearby beach.
A Redondo surfer was reported to have been resuscitated on the beach after a near deadly wipeout and an El Segundo man broke his leg after being tripped by a wave while standing on a pier.
In Marina del Rey, waves routinely enveloped the Marina detached breakwater.
“The waves quite frequently go over the breakwater,” said Nelson, “But there were a couple of times that they completely covered the breakwater for moments, and I’ve never seen that.
“At times, the whole length of it was covered and that kind of astounded me.”
As for the boats that are anchored in Ballona Creek and particularly the two that washed up on the beach, Nelson said:
“It’s very problematic — it’s a hazard to navigation and it’s completely unsafe.
“When they wash up on the beach it’s a totally unsafe situation.”
Local safety agencies have had their hands full through this exceptional situation, but were mostly satisfied with how the public was handling the conditions.
“We were fortunate in that there weren’t too many boaters going out,” said Captain McIlroy.
“Surf was breaking outside the entrance, so if they left Marina del Rey, they ran the risk of being hit by white water from a breaking wave.
“So, thank God, most of the boaters had enough common sense to stay inside the Marina.”
Nelson concurred that local boaters erred on the side of caution, but he still spoke in a foreboding tone.
“We don’t know the abilities of everybody going out there, we don’t know the condition of their vessels. They can probably do it fairly safely, but it can get pretty hairy, particularly if there’s a wind coming up.
“As you’re going out past the breakwater, the frequency of the waves is more rapid and [boaters] could really get into some significant trouble. What we’re concerned about is people going out there and getting hurt and then we have to go out and put our lives on the line to rescue these folks.”
Now the waves have subsided and the ocean has mostly returned to its normal state of being, but the winter is young.
There have been some rather extensive shoaling problems between the jetty and the detached breakwater at the north entrance, caused by the event, but buoys have been set to indicate the shallows.
“If it gets much worse, we’re going to consider shutting down the north entrance,” said Nelson.