Christmas came early for surfers in West Hawaii on Friday as a west-northwest swell fueled big waves that closed a handful of beaches.
Twenty- to 25-foot surf rolled in along the Kona and Kohala coasts providing bodyboarders, surfers and onlookers a day of wave-riding fun. The sound of cheers and whistles, along with the occasional “chee-hoo,” could be heard around the downtown Kailua-Kona area Friday morning.
“It’s just in time for Christmas and I hope it holds through the new year and starts off the new year good,” said Kailua-Kona resident Rebecca Kakalia, who spent the morning with her husband, Matt, who was surfing in waters fronting Waterfront Row, a surf spot known as Spindrifters. “The surf keeps our spirits up. We live in Kona and this is why we live here … we’re so blessed.”
The surf is being fueled by a large storm system located in the northwest Pacific that produced long period swells, said Bob Ballard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu. A high surf warning remains in effect until 6 p.m. today.
“The swell is quite big and much more westerly than usual,” Ballard told Stephens Media Hawaii about why west-facing shores along the Kona and Kohala coasts saw elevated surf. “That translates to very, very large surf.”
The largest waves coincided with the high tide, which occurred about 6 a.m. Friday. John Eckert, a maintenance worker at Coconut Grove Marketplace, said between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m. the waves crossed Alii Drive, covering it with at least 2 feet of water, before washing about 15 feet up the sidewalk near Clint Sloan Studios.
He said the water was high enough to splash over a Jeep driving down Alii Drive at the time. Another wave, he said, crested the wall just as a car stopped to pick someone up on the makai side of the road. He said the water appeared to push the person into the vehicle.
“I’m excited. This is pretty sweet,” he said, while sweeping away small rocks from the sidewalk. “I just wish I wasn’t working so I could be watching it. I’ve been here for five years, and I’ve never seen it this big — that was more water than the (March 2011) tsunami (pushed onto Alii Drive).”
No damage was visible in the area, though there were several good-sized boulders on the makai side of Alii Drive remaining before Hawaii County crews arrived to clean up debris. At Kahaluu Beach Park, the surf had apparently compromised a portion of the rock wall encircling Waikuaaala pond.
Hawaii County Civil Defense had received no reports of property damage along the shoreline as of Friday afternoon, said Administrative Officer John Drummond.
Forecasters expected the high surf to begin diminishing in size overnight Friday night and to continue doing so today, Ballard said. Waves are forecast to be between 14 and 18 feet today.
“But it will remain dangerously high — just not quite as high,” Ballard said.
The Hawaii County Civil Defense early Friday closed a handful of West Hawaii beaches because of hazardous conditions. Among the beaches closed were Hapuna, Kohanaiki, also known as Pine Trees, Laaloa, also known as Magic Sands and Kahaluu, as well as the public beach areas at Kukio and Four Seasons Resort, Hualalai.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources in addition closed Maniniowali, Kua Bay, at Kekaha Kai State Park and Lapakahi State Park. The Mahaiula section of Kekaha Kai State Park remained open.
Ballard said the National Weather Service received reports of 20-foot waves at both Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area and Laaloa, as well as ocean run up at beach parks in West Hawaii.
The beaches remained closed as of press time Friday. County officials will assess the situation this morning to determine whether the beaches will reopen, Drummond said.
Hawaii Fire Department personnel responded to no major incidents Friday, said West Hawaii Battalion Chief Steve Loyola. He said crews responded to two reports of swimmers in distress, both of which later turned out to be negative, and a possible hazardous materials situation in the waters off Kawaihae, which was later determined to be runoff from heavy rains.
While the surf is expected to drop below advisory levels by Sunday, there’s more coming — and it’s likely the waves will ride in with Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, just in time for Christmas Day, Ballard said. Another storm system in the northwest Pacific is pushing a west-northwest swell toward the islands.
It’s expected to arrive early next week. Christmas Day is Wednesday.
“It’s not quite as big, but it does look like another pretty big swell,” Ballard said. “It should be coming in right about Christmas Day, maybe late Christmas Eve.”
Email Chelsea Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.