Surfs up! Crowds flock to California beaches
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Hundreds of spectators lined the beach and gasped, cheered and clapped as bodysurfers braved 15-foot waves at The Wedge. It's a Newport Beach, California break known for its powerful waves.
The thrill of challenging the walls of churning water had lured bodysurfer Robin Mohr out of bed before sunrise. He was panting on the sand. A wave had sent him tumbling through the foamy chop. A trickle of blood was on his forehead. That's where he'd been smacked by a surfboard earlier in the day.
"You're just super-alert to where you're positioned. Because the worst-case scenario is you land with your head on the sand," said Mohr, 50. He's a South African who drove from San Diego to Newport Beach.
Big surf has been pounding south-facing sections of the Southern California coast since May 3. It has kept lifeguards busy. The surf has attracted daring surfers and bodysurfers. They arrive with boards, wetsuits and fins in tow. The big surf was created by a major storm thousands of miles away.
The highest California surf was expected the next day, May 4. It was being kicked up by the Southern Hemisphere storm. Six- to 8-foot waves were recorded at Santa Monica. Neighboring Venice saw slightly higher surf.
The Behr family from Colorado brought their sons, 1-year-old Cole and 3-year-old Max, to the beach. Their father, David Behr, called the huge surf a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"We've been to Hawaii a few times and whenever you can catch some big waves, just watching it is incredible," he said. All the while, he snapped pictures and pointed out extra-big waves to his younger son.
Newport Beach saw 55,000 visitors over the weekend. Even so, more lifeguards were on duty Monday, May 4. It was because of the high surf, said Newport Beach Chief Lifeguard Rob Williams.
The rough conditions extended north along the California coast. They went up to San Luis Obispo County. Avalon, Port San Luis, San Simeon and Cayucos could see currents capable of dislodging moored vessels and docks, forecasters said.
"Inexperienced swimmers should definitely stay out of the water," Seal Beach police Sgt. Ron LaVelle said.
Lifeguards pulled 17 people out of the water over the weekend off Newport Beach. It was the busiest weekend for lifeguards since March. That's when 134 people were rescued during a weekend of big waves and warm weather.
Critical thinking challenge: Why would conditions vary from city to city?