NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. » The surf was churning in Southern California, and even bigger waves were brewing.
Surfers and gawkers crowded beaches Tuesday while workers hurried to fortify beaches and sandbag low-lying areas against flooding from the serious surf expected to peak Wednesday, brought on by Hurricane Marie spinning off Mexico’s Pacific coast.
At The Wedge in Newport Beach, a famous surfing spot, dozens lined the beach to watch bodysurfers get pounded by storm-driven waves up to 10 feet high. People took photos and video and clapped, whistled, and cheered when a bodysurfer caught one of the swells.
Lifeguards with flippers and rescue batons at the ready patrolled the edge of the water and two rescue boats kept an eye on the dozen or so brave souls in the water. An ambulance was on stand-by near the beach.
Would-be big-wave surfers who came out said they were hoping for swells up to 30 feet Wednesday. If that materializes, it will be the biggest wave event at The Wedge since 1997, when Hurricane Linda produced monster swells, said Tim Burnham, who’s making a documentary about the famed surfing locale.
"This is the stuff that you dream of: rainbows, unicorns, Southern Hemi swells, hurricane swells," he said as he dried off from a session in the waves.
"You definitely have a healthy amount of fear," Burnham said. "You know, you don’t want to be stupid. You’re here to push yourself, but at the end of the day you want to go home to your family."
Some 60 miles to the northwest in Malibu, where waves were 6-to-8 feet high, a surfer was pulled unconscious from the water at Surfrider Beach on Tuesday and later died at a hospital, authorities said. It was not clear whether the death was related to the surf and may have been from a medical condition, Kyle Daniels, a Los Angeles County lifeguard captain, told the Orange County Register.
The National Weather Service said beaches stretching 100 miles up the Southern California coast would see large waves and rip currents. Swimmers and surfers were urged to be aware of the dangerous conditions.
In the city of Long Beach’s Peninsula neighborhood, residents watched as bulldozers built huge sand berms between the ocean and their homes. Several took the warning to heart and shoveled sand into bags to place around their garage doors and entryways.
Deborah Popek, who’s lived in the area 20 years, took a walk along the boardwalk with her cat, Sophie, to check the surf and see how neighbors were preparing. She’s had flooding in the past.
"It’s always at the last minute that everybody panics because, you know, we don’t expect things to happen," she said. "But they’re really taking things seriously because the sandbar is as high as they’ve ever built it right now."
Associated Press writer Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles.