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Biggest storm surge in decades brings monster waves to California and Hawaii

Half Moon Bay, California: With a Pacific storm pushing big waves toward California, organisers of a contest at one of the world's most perilous surfing spots have told competitors to grab their boards and get ready.

Jeff Clark, director of the Mavericks event, set the contest for Friday after forecasters predicted that the mix of swell size and weather would make for waves with faces exceeding 12 metres.

Twenty-four of the world's best big wave surfers now have until then to make their way to the break a 0.8-kilometre off the coast near Half Moon Bay.

Two seasoned watermen have died there, including legendary big-wave rider Mark Foo from Hawaii in 1994.

This year's competitors feature local and international surfers, including former Mavericks champion Greg Long.

The huge swells are being generated by a powerful low pressure system in the central Pacific.


The same weather system that has delivered monster swells to Hawaii this week.

Some of the biggest waves to hit Hawaii in years began slamming onto shore on Wednesday, turning beachgoers into spectators as waves up to 12 metres tall crashed into idyllic getaways.

Waves up to 15 metres high were feared on the famous North Shore of Oahu and at other islands.

Beaches were closed across the island chain as the surge hit on Wednesday and Thursday.

Coastal roads and parking lots reportedly flooded as wind gusts up to 64 km/h whipped onlookers and tore fronds from palm trees. Officials urged surfers not to risk their lives to ride the violent surges.

Danger wasn't just on the beach: There was at least one report of a golfer hit by a tree branch.

"It's a real mess out there," Tom Birchard, a senior forecaster for the National Weather Service in Honolulu. He said it was difficult to get a precise measure on how large the waves were because surfers weren't on the water.

But according to one buoy northwest of the island of Kauai, the surf hitting Hawaii was at its highest level since 1986, Birchard said.

An extreme low-pressure system brought in this week's heavy waves. A similar high-surf event happened in 1998, Birchard said, but Wednesday's were the largest waves of his almost 20-year career.

"We get high-surf events every year, but those usually run about 25 [8 metres] to 35 feet [11 metres] and a little bit larger," Birchard said, noting that the waves were forecast to reach up to 50 feet [15 metres] in height. "This one is not only larger than normal, but it's expected to last longer than normal."

The spectacle was not lost on sightseers on the western and northern sides of the state's islands, where many shared photos and video of the tremendous waves crashing ashore.

AP, Los Angeles Times