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March 15, 2007
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It happens sometimes. The biggest North Shore swell of the winter came almost in time for spring cleaning. The afternoon of Tuesday, March 13th saw a solid 20-foot-plus west-northwest swell steamroll into the islands like a locomotive, closing out Waimea, washing across Kam Highway, and generating some last-minute XXL entries to boot.
Not that anyone's complaining, of course.

Mark Healey, who started out at Pipeline on Tuesday afternoon and ended up towing in at Outer Log Cabins till after sunset, couldn't be happier. "It was a weird swell," he explains. "It was amazing to watch it go from flat in the morning to 60-foot faces by dark."

Longtime North Shore resident/photographer Pete Hodgson agrees. "I saw waves break from third reef Pipeline all the way across to Pupukea by late afternoon," he says. "I can't remember ever seeing that before."
Surfline's Kevin Wallis explains why the swell was so big - and moved so fast:

"The swell was generated by a moderate low that initially slid off the Kamchatka Peninsula this past weekend and moved southeast in the general direction of the Hawaiian Islands. As it did so, it absorbed a small and moisture-laden low, which added fuel to stoke the fire of the new and improved low-pressure system.

"This combination led to a rapidly intensifying area of low pressure on Sunday afternoon with 45- to 60-knot winds and recorded seas heights of 30- to 40-feet-plus aimed well at Oahu and the rest of the Hawaiian Islands, before the storm weakened significantly by Monday.

"Now comes the real kicker: this set up all took place within 1000-1500 miles of the Islands. This allowed for both a maximum amount of swell to build and also enough distance that the short period chop and slop within the storm was filtered out long before it was able to reach Hawaii, leading to a fairly groomed and organized swell.

"Furthermore, the proximity of the storm permitted overlapping wave trains and period bands in the 14-20 second range to arrive at roughly the same time leading to occasional 18- to 20-foot-plus sets (Hawaiian scale) slamming the deepwater reefs by late Tuesday afternoon."
"It was amazing to watch it go from flat in the morning to 60-foot faces by dark."
--North Shore psycho Mark Healey
In addition to the fact that it was generated so close to the Islands, which can cause the surf to pop up quicker than predicted, the other unique thing about this swell is that the wind that created it was under-called by NOAA models. Last weekend, there was some kind of corruption in the data coming from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP - the NOAA branch that predicts wind). Some say it was due to the early daylight savings time switch, but either way, the numbers coming from the models were not adding up to reality.

"The modeled wind speeds were less than what was happening," explains Surfline's Sean Collins. "We ran an assimilation program on Monday that compares the models with the satellite info and it became pretty clear. It was a classic example why we always insist that our forecasters also use the charts to manually calculate the forecast, as well as using the swell models."

But again, due to the close and intense nature of the storm, the swells moved quickly through the Pacific and arrived on the North Shore's doorstep with little fanfare.

"By Tuesday morning, Buoy One, northwest of Oahu, was reading 22 feet at 20 seconds," explains Sean Collins. "But this was a combination of swells doubling up and running over each other rather than one pure swell."

After hovering in the 15- to 18-foot (Hawaiian scale) during the mid afternoon, a three-wave set in the 30-foot range closed out Waimea Bay around 5pm. "The water came up and into the Waimea river runoff and the lifeguards had to start working overtime," explains photog Terry Reis.

And while Waimea was packed with 55-plus paddle-in Rhino Chasers, Outer Log Cabins was putting on a show of its own. A half dozen tow teams were on it, including Dave Wassel (who got the 30-foot tube of the session), Garrett MacNamara (who started out the afternoon by paddling into a couple), Ken Bradshaw (who was one of the first to surf here), Mark Healey (who got frustrated at closing out Pipeline), Buttons Kaluhiokalani (who tried tow surfing for the first time today), and Dane Kealoha (who drives a mean ski and talks a meaner story).

"I was blown away," explains photog Allen Mozo, who was breaking in his new ski for the occasion. "I got out there at almost 4pm and each set was bigger than the last. I kept putting my camera away, thinking it was too dark, but the boys kept saying, 'one more!' We eventually came into Haleiwa Harbor after dark - that was the scariest thing."

And while most folks will start looking towards the Southern Hemisphere for surf in the coming weeks, this swell (and the one coming early next week) serves as a solid reminder: the North Pacific may be down, but it's never out.



SURFING A-Z: Ken Bradshaw

SURFING A-Z: Buttons Kaluhiokalani


Hawaiian Watershots

Surf Shooter Hawaii

Allen Mozo Photo