Winter surf season begins with back-to-back XL swells on Oahu’s North Shore

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The winter surf season has begun, drawing hundreds of spectators and surfers to Oahu’s North Shore.

Wave heights reached about 30-feet face value on Sunday, Jan. 9, and will start to decline Monday, Jan. 10. However, extra-large swells will hit on Tuesday, Jan. 11, and Thursday, Jan. 13.

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“We’re going to have some really dangerous conditions,” said Kerry Atwood, the Honolulu Ocean Safety Lieutenant. “We’re going to have swells back-to-back and we’re going to have high surf throughout the week and if you’re inexperienced, it’s not the best choice to come out due to the dangerous conditions we’re expecting. So we’re asking surfers to please know their limits.” 

North Shore surfer Levi Kim paddled out to Waimea Bay early Sunday morning but was one of several surfers to come back to shore with a broken board.  

“I was sitting out super deep, I caught the second wave of the set, I was going down it and I was super confident I was going to make it. But then, the set shifted towards the right and I totally air dropped, and I felt myself skid down the wave. Then, about five seconds later I felt the lip crash right down onto me, and it’s like a big washing machine and as I popped up, I saw my board sticking up out of the water and then suddenly my leash came back towards me and my boards in half.” 

Levi Kim, North Shore surfer

Kim had his impact vest on and was waiting for a rescue craft to grab him, but another set followed.

“So, I got my breathing down, made sure I was calm, and just went into the wave, and I took three waves on the head,” Kim continued. “It’s pretty heavy out there, there’s a lot of people out there; as you can see there’s 30 guys out there. Super crowded, safety is a must, impact vest, and make sure you’re an experienced surfer.”

Most beachgoers stayed behind the caution tape lifeguards put up. 

“Lots of times people come out and it doesn’t look that big, it can be between sets. We have big surf with long lulls sometimes, and people don’t realize how dangerous it is until those sets come in,” Lt. Atwood explained. 

He said people can easily be swept out to sea.  

North Shore lifeguards had an early start on Sunday morning. 

“We’ve had some challenges; today we had a few calls. We had a missing surfer this morning off of Pua’ena Point and luckily he was found, and everybody was OK, and we had a few other calls,” Lt. Atwood said. 

Ocean Safety has been dealing with staffing shortages due to omicron, and they’re hopeful guards will remain healthy throughout the week as extra-large surf continues to hit north and west facing shores.  

“Fortunately, today with the dangerous conditions we have all towers open and a full staff,” said Lt. Atwood.  

Anyone who plans on going to the North Shore during the week of Jan. 9 is asked to stay behind caution tape, not go onto wet sand or rocks and to stay at guarded beaches. 

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“Plan on seeing the surf from a guarded beach park that has a lifeguard tower that’s manned and refrain from adventuring out to those secluded spots,” Lt. Atwood said. “Some of them have become popular on social media, and we’re discoursing people from doing that because if you do get into trouble you’re going to rely on a mobile responder and that can take some time so please keep it at a guarded beach”

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