The big-wave surf season has officially started in Hawaii, but with high surf advisories in effect, don’t get too comfortable watching from shore. Waves crashing onto the sand may get as big as 10 feet; not to mention, the powerful rip currents created by fast-moving ocean waters that can easily sweep you out to sea.
Instead, watch from afar or from atop a sea cliff. It’s not uncommon for a swell to bring 25-foot surf to north-facing shores, while west-facing shores may see waves as big as 18 feet. Even the most experienced surfers could get injured in these dangerous conditions, and in severe instances, they could drown.
Lifeguards, in particular, keep extra busy during Hawaii’s winter surf season. They post signs warning beach-goers of any dangers, as well as direct them to a safe zone when the surf gets really big. Oftentimes, lifeguards will close a beach all together as a precautionary measure. And although a beach may seem calm when you first arrive, it’s most likely because there is a break between sets. These long intervals (sometimes up to 30-minute periods) add to the hazards of beaches under a high surf advisory.
For north-facing shores, a high surf advisory takes effect when the surf reaches 15 feet (25 feet for a high surf warning). West-facing shores get issued a high surf advisory when surf is 12 feet or more (20 feet for a warning). And for both south-facing and east-facing shores, a high surf advisory takes effect at 8 feet (15 feet for a warning). Before you head out to the beach, check the National Weather Service or local news for high surf advisories and warnings that may be in place for the Hawaiian Islands.