Coastal Bay Area cities monitor high surf after damage from last week's powerful waves

ByDustin Dorsey and Lena Howland KGO logo
Thursday, January 4, 2024
Big Santa Cruz waves draw crowds, more rescue calls
From East Cliff to West Cliff, Santa Cruz looked more like the North Shore of Hawaii with the sun shining bright over the blue water and big waves.

PACIFICA, Calif. (KGO) -- A High Surf Advisory in effect Wednesday means dangerous swimming and surf conditions. Communities along the Bay Area's coastline saw some powerful waves along with some close calls.

Powerful waves create hole on Pacifica seawall

A High Surf Advisory in effect Wednesday means dangerous swimming and surf conditions along the coast after flooding and damage last week.

The waves were already crashing into the seawall at the Pacifica Pier Wednesday morning.

With the advisory in effect in effect until 4 a.m. Thursday, the National Weather Service is expecting large breaking waves around 19-23 feet.

"The size is there for those that really crave the big waves," Toben Dilworth, a Pacifica resident said.

But while Wednesday morning's storm was pretty look at, the waves didn't compare to the high surf the area saw last week.

"Oh the waves are pretty calm today, compared to last week, four or five days ago, it was awful," Mitch Shimazu, a Pacifica resident said.

Leaving a trail of damage along Beach Boulevard, including an entire concrete pillar knocked over.

"This road just gets annihilated every year," Dilworth said.

The waves were so powerful, Pacifica's Public Works Director Lisa Petersen confirms they made a hole in the aging seawall, lifting up the sidewalk and causing water to spill out onto Beach Boulevard.

"It's a reminder that even a little fence like this, that looks like it's safe guarding this person's front yard, can be toppled by one giant wave with a lot of power behind it," Dilworth said.

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Beach Boulevard is shut down for safety until temporary repairs can be made and the hole can be plugged from the East side of the wall.

Dilworth says as locals, they're used to this.

The Public Works Department says holes like these pop up every year or two as a result of aging infrastructure that eventually needs to be replaced.

"The size and scale just reminds you of the power of Mother Nature and we're sort of responding to what she's dealing us," Dilworth said.

With Wednesday's High Surf Advisory along the Central and Northern California Coastline, that means dangerous swimming and surfing conditions and some localized beach erosion.

The NWS is warning people to stay off rocks and jetties and keep themselves and any pets out of the water.

Big Santa Cruz waves draw crowds, more rescue calls

It was a beautiful day for wave watching in Santa Cruz Wednesday and the massive tides brought people from across the Bay Area to see them.

But that unfamiliarity with the ocean has also been a problem for local rescue efforts who have noticed an uptick in rescue calls.

From East Cliff to West Cliff, Santa Cruz looked more like the North Shore of Hawaii with the sun shining bright over the blue water and big waves.

The past few weeks of high surf has been a dream for surfers like Dylan Lum and his friends from San Francisco.

"There's not much surf anywhere else right now," Lum said. "The winds are favorable right here, right now. We're just going to hit some before the storm comes. It's been really, really fun - surfed out here last week. It's been kind of stormy, but it's still been really, really fun with these swells."

As busy as it was in the water, the coastline was packed with visitors from all over enjoying nature's show.

"The waves and the ocean are such a big part of Santa Cruz," Santa Cruz Resident Ari Wargo said. "So when we get big waves, it's just fun to see."

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Visitors from all over the world flocked to Mavericks in Half Moon Bay to watch surfers brave the massive waves.

"We saw some big ones," Reno resident Ernie said. "I live in Reno right now, so it's been awhile."

But for residents here in Santa Cruz, these massive waves are becoming a common sight.

Laura Worgon and her husband say they look forward to this time of year every year.

"We just live in a very beautiful place," Wargon said. "We're always surprised when we walk down here, we don't really see it coming, I think."

As fun as the surprise factor is for those watching from afar, the idea of "not seeing it coming" is one of the dangers of ocean when it comes to these big waves.

With so many people swimming, surfing or viewing waves too close, it has kept California State Parks lifeguards pretty busy.

"The last few weeks have definitely been busy," State Park peace officer life guard Tyler Leamer said. "We've seen an uptick with rescues for sure. Christmas, New Year, everyone is getting new equipment. Last week was definitely interesting."

Leamer says the most common rescues of late were needed when beachgoers got stuck in the water after tides rose and when people watching the waves got knocked off of the rocks and rip currents took them out to sea.

Leamer is urging caution for all visitors and says if you're unfamiliar with major waves like these - stay safe and stay away.

"Just remember that the ocean is unpredictable and you never know what you're going to get," Leamer said. "So, check your local forecast and if you're not comfortable out there, stay out of the water."

Leamer says sneaker waves and debris in the water can be dangerous as well.

So he suggests staying off the rocks and don't turn your back to the water in order to stay safe.

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