HONOLULU (KHON2) — The biggest swell in years hit most of the state’s north-facing shores on Saturday, Jan. 16. Wave heights reached about 45 feet, with some 60-foot sets coming through on Oahu’s North Shore.
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The life-threatening swell kept lifeguards busy with 89 rescues and 5,170 preventative actions.
Many people went to Waimea Bay before the sun came out to catch a first glimpse of the big swell.
“This is epic Waimea, epic Waimea,” said Clyde Aikau, big wave surfer and brother of the legendary Eddie Aikau. “Right now, [8 a.m.], it’s about 15 to 18 feet, and it’s going to build up to 30-feet Hawaiian.”
“This is going to come down as one of the best days at Waimea, I’m sure,” he continued.
He said the Eddie would have been a go for Saturday, Jan. 15. The Aikau family called off the competition months ago due to the pandemic and large crowds gathering.
There were hundreds of people at Waimea Bay by 10 a.m.
Some were wearing masks and some were not.
“Our family, we still hold to our guns, the safety of our people is first, and riding waves is really second,” he said.
All beaches along the North Shore had caution tape up and lifeguards warned people to stay far away from the ocean.
Some of the best surfers had difficultly paddling out to the lineup at Waimea as the swell continued to build and got caught on the inside, being swept into the current and white wash. Some were held down for several waves and lifeguards had to wait for huge sets to pass to rescue them.
Even the surfers who have been surfing Waimea Bay for decades found themselves in trouble.
“For me, it was right on the edge of being too big (to surf),” said Alika Anixe. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and today was the first day I’ve ever needed a ski assist.”
Another 30-year veteran at the Bay said he bailed after looking up at a 60-foot-face wave.
“I bailed my board, swam under, the thing crunched me, and I pulled this cord right here, inflated this vest for the very first time, I’ve had this thing for five years now, and I never felt I had to pull it until then,” said big-wave surfer Chris Owens.
The waves crashed all the way into residential yards from Ke Iki to Pipeline and onto Kamehameha Highway at Laniakea, Sunset and Rock Pile.
A high surf warning remains in effect until 6 p.m. Sunday, with another high surf warning going into effect on Monday.