ALISO BEACH STORM SURF
The storms that Southern California endured to end February and begin March 2014, were memorable. I can’t remember if I have ever seen a storm off of the California coast via a satellite image that had an eye like a hurricane. In many ways, and despite getting desperately needed rain in good chunks, this storm could have been a lot worse. Despite trees blown over at and near my office as well as gates knocked down, it seems like we may have gotten off easy compared to the potential that this particular storm had. I spend Sunday watching the giant surf that was brought in by a rare swell generating waves out of the West-Southwest. My first stop on Saturday was Aliso Beach in South Laguna. Everyone I talked to on the beach said that it was 4 foot in the morning and by around noon the size had tripled and perhaps even quadrupled. One friend who has been around a particular Laguna Beach spot said that he had never seen anything like what he had seen that day. It was a remarkable day for waves and there were few takers for these waves that combined with a threatening and ominous sky looked deadly.
Aliso Beach had large and semi-rideable waves breaking just north of the mouth of Aliso Creek. The rest of the beach looked like a river of water moving north to south with big dumping waves detonating on the sand bars. In my mind it was just too dangerous to chance it. I took photos from my IPhone 4 and chatted with wave riding and surf photography friends from all over Orange County. Many felt it was a better day to marvel at the power of Mother Nature from shore. When I was there, one surfer did paddle out. He would have to straighten out on a big wave and he would ultimately lose his board. On one particular wave, he struggled to get back to shore, took a breather, walked back north of the creek mouth, timed the sets and paddled back out. There really wasn’t much he could do with the waves but it was fun too watch. Soon after I left Aliso Beach to check out other spots in Laguna Beach.
The next day the surf had calmed down a little. I drove into a sandy and soaked parking lot at Aliso Beach and joined a circus of people lining the beach, snapping pictures and watching the action. There were 6 people in the water, two of which were surfers and the other 4 body boarders. It was still big and dangerous, but more manageable than the day before. Penalties still existed for getting caught inside or taking off on the wrong wave. I watched long time friend Henry Long get a heaving inside barrel with his son and nephews on the beach celebrating. That was really cool! That day and the next few days have produced a lot of shots and commentary from the couple of days with extraordinary waves. Henry Long, who is also a skilled surf photographer, mentioned on Facebook that he was warned by a woman that people had to be rescued at Aliso Beach the day before. Henry and I must have just missed this on Saturday. Links were included to an Orange County Register Story about a rescue that speaks to the dangers of Aliso Beach and why you have to respect the waves at Aliso Beach to keep yourself out of harm’s way.
As I have found out from photographer Tom Monroe, a dude with a surf board came to the Aliso Beach with his girlfriend who was also wearing a full wetsuit. Apparently she was going for a swim while his intention was to surf. There were a lot of very experienced wave riders on that beach on Saturday sitting the big waves out because they knew better. I have also been told that she had no swim fins on at all. I have not confirmed that statement but if she indeed had no fins, entering the water or being close enough to waves to be knocked down and pulled out was a very bad decision, and one that almost ended her days. It sounds to me that these were some very inexperienced people and probably had no business out in the water that day. This was a recipe for disaster. Let’s also add the fact that this young woman most likely did not have the swimming skills to pull themselves out of extraordinarily dangerous rip tides and large surf. Remember, there was only one guy out just before this happened and as I discovered later, only one additional surfer when this person was swept out.
As the Orange County Register story goes, a woman was sucked off the shore into the massive surf. One surfer and then a second surfer came to her rescue. It was a good thing for her that these guys could get to her. The board as a flotation device I am sure was key to saving lives. Even on smaller days, rescues can be extremely dangerous. Those that need to be rescued go into shock and often get a frozen, deer in headlights state becoming heavy, rigid and difficult to maneuver to safety. I know from rescuing someone at Crescent Bay and in many ways, the difficulty of helping this guy who was frozen and panicked in large surf was one of the scariest things I have been involved in. Can you imagine battling 15 foot surf and trying to keep a panicked woman with less than ideal experience in the ocean afloat? Heroic is the only word I can find to express the level of bravery, self-sacrifice and strength required to make that happen.
Three lifeguards also found themselves in the middle of the rescue attempt. The group of 6 were said to have taken a beating in the large surf. At one point it was said that one surfer tried to get to shore himself and had to be dragged back to the group. At this point a decision was made based on safety that they would have to be rescued by the lifeguard boat. The story hinted at the difficulty of the rescue with the group battling the waves. One way or another, it sounds like a very dangerous situation that all parties involved are very lucky to have survived.
This Aliso Beach storm surf had very bad intentions. It was mean and even with all of my years of experience, I chose not to put myself in that position that day after looking at how nasty and evil the waves looked. What I don’t understand is how people put themselves into positions that are completely avoidable. I get that you can be in the water and get in over your head. I have done that myself, but when the waves are that big and nasty, onlookers and the inexperienced should not be any where near the water at Aliso Beach. If they have to be close, they can’t ever take there eyes off the waves and the surge up the beach. One person risked her own life and then risked 5 others lives. I get it and know that she did not do it on purpose. That does not, however, underscore the fact that what happened was completely avoidable. Aliso Beach Storm Surf represents waves with the worst of intentions and the wrong wave at the precise moment can turn the lights out for all time. For most, it was best to steer clear of them.