PHOTOS: Super Swell Brings Fun and Damage to Malibu


Super Swell Brings Fun and Damage to Malibu

The swell that started in the Southern Hemisphere arrived in Malibu last week on Wednesday, and continued through Labor Day.

By Ben Marcus

Beginning last week on Wednesday and powering through the weekend, a big, powerful south swell created joy and chaos in the surf zone, but also took out decks and staircases from County Line to Carbon Beach. City officials said as of Tuesday they had not received any report of property damage, but photographs and statements from some residents tell a different story.

Surf forecaster Mark Sponsler explained the surf science of why this swell that originated in the Southern Hemisphere had so much power.

“The issue was the extremely long period associated with this swell,” Sponsler said. “Winds in the storm blew solidly at 55-plus knots for 36 hours over a large [area of open water], resulting in 36 hours of significant seas at 50 to 52 feet. The stronger the wind, the more energy it imparts into the ocean, resulting in very fast-moving waves.”

Surfers from Malibu and elsewhere crowded the local ocean to enjoy this rare swell. This was to the benefit of local businesses that cater to Malibu’s favorite pastime.

“Business was off the hook; by the second day of swell—sold out of [surfboard] leashes,” said Mitch Taylor, manager at Becker Surf & Sport in Malibu Colony Plaza.

Music impresario Jordan Tappis was out there banging rails. He said the best move he saw was a recovery from a mistake on Saturday night by professional surfer Dave Rastovich. He was riding a four-foot wave at First Point, Surfrider Beach with an alaia, a traditional Hawaiian wood surfboard with no fin.

“After trimming for about 15 feet, he jumped onto his stomach and began bodysurfing down the face of the wave,” Tappis said. “At that point, he was well north of the lifeguard tower. He continued to cut all the way across the point, gliding like a possessed dolphin.”

Tappis continued, “He took a high line for about 50 yards, but once the wave fattened up, he started pumping up and down the face. It was incredible. Nobody dropped in on him because they were so confused [and] impressed. Rasta proceeded to ride that sucker all the way to the shore break. When he hit the sand, the whole beach erupted with applause.”

Surfer and filmmaker jbrother is a man who likes to surf Malibu on his carbon fiber Quiver. He had the speed and nerve to give the Malibu Pier a try—and he lived to tell about it.

“Yeah, I was lucky enough to get one of the waves that Allen Sarlo didn’t want, and made it through the pier on Wednesday evening,” jbrother said. “It’s really more about the wave than the surfer to get one to the pier … You’re either Allen Sarlo or you’re lucky enough to get a big set wave—a grower—lined up all the way with no one on it.”

He continued, “The Malibu [Pier] pilings are uneven, with a smaller gap toward the end and bigger in the middle … sketchy. The hairy thing about the Malibu Pier, if you know your history, is that it’s killed people. And I guess that’s in the back of your mind when you’re making your decision … You need speed to make it and you need to pick a line … then it’s up to your skill.”

After delivering that caveat, jbrother described the best things he saw during the big swell.

“David Nuuhiwa talking story and riding some bombs,” jbrother said. “Sarlo and Christian Fletcher shooting the pier—on the same wave. Allen Sarlo getting more waves through the pier than most people got all swell.”

The swell lingered with power and consistency through the weekend and into Labor Day. On Sunday night, the energy of all that humanity throwing itself into all that powerful surf was reflected in the sky as tropical clouds lit up in reds and oranges. Rainbows sprouted like colored waterspouts and a lightning storm in the east sent some surfers to shore a little earlier.

For the full story and lots more photos go here:

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