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Lure of waves draws many from workaday world

As the sun sets on a day of big waves, a young surfer leaps off a jetty in Oceanside.

California, USA

The biggest oceanic swell in nearly two years pummeled Southern California's shoreline Wednesday, causing minor flooding in low-lying coastal areas and creating epic conditions for surfers trying to match their skills against powerful waves with faces 12 feet and taller. The enormous swell, which peaked early Wednesday and dropped significantly by midday Thursday, was UNUSUAL in its power and focus. Its westerly direction allowed it to slip around Point Conception and in between the Channel Islands that so often protect many Southern California beaches from the Pacific's most ferocious waves. Waves were steam-rolling their way into every nook and cranny along the coast - most of which rarely see surf of any decent size. The super-sized waves snapped surfboards, tore apart board leashes and bruised surfers egos with punishing regularity. In Santa Monica there were 8- to 10-foot swells, triple the typical size of waves at this popular spot. At Ventura Pier, even the most experienced surfers were getting swept into the pier's pilings, entangled by their boards and leashes. Wednesday's big waves began days ago and hundreds of miles away in a storm that developed in the middle of the North Pacific above Hawaii. It was shaping up to be just another big storm until it pulled moisture from a tropical depression near the Philippines. "It was like throwing dynamite into a campfire. All of that warm moisture mixing with the cold air supercharged the storm." The result was hurricane-force winds that built up wave heights of nearly 50 feet. Those waves slammed into Northern California on Tuesday. Wave heights of 50 feet or more claimed the life of one big-wave rider. The wave heights diminished a bit en route to Southern California, because of frictional drag along the seafloor. The last swell of this size to hit Southern California arrived Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005. "Another Big Wednesday." Surfers marveled at how many times the biggest swells arrive on "Big Wednesdays."

In North County, RECORD-HIGH SURF pummeled the coast on Wednesday. The National Weather Service put a high surf advisory in place through Sunday, warning that the waves could bring dangerous rip currents and flooding to low-lying areas. Beachgoers were advised to avoid fishing or watching waves immediately off the coast, because large waves can come up suddenly.

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