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Big swell brings strong surf, rip currents and warnings just as Los Angeles gears up to open beaches

One of the biggest south swells of the season has been slamming Southern California for the past few days, bringing big waves, strong rip currents and luring surfers to the coast – some to still-closed beaches.

The National Weather Service issued a Beach Hazard Statement that remains in effect through Tuesday night, May 12, with waves in the 3-foot to 6-foot range on south-facing beaches, with occasional sets up to 7-feet in select areas. The swell started showing off Southern California’s coast on Sunday, peaked on Monday and will be dropping Wednesday and through the end of the week.



The swell coincides with Los Angeles County getting ready to soon open its beaches, with limited, active-use only. LA’s beaches won’t open at dawn Wednesday, as some had initially thought, because Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has yet to issue an order allowing it.

The county’s current order closing beaches runs through Friday, May 15. But Ferrer is expected to issue another order on Wednesday allowing beaches to reopen, though it’s not known if the order will take effect immediately, said Liz Odendahl, spokeswoman for county Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office.

But Long Beach, which owns its beaches, announced Tuesday afternoon that its shores will reopen for active uses.

Still, some LA County surfers couldn’t wait for the ocean’s debut, with dozens of surfers paddling out in Malibu the past few days, despite the beach still being technically shut down.

The weather service’s statement warns of an increased risk of ocean drowning, rip currents that can pull swimmers and surfers out to sea and waves that can wash people off beaches and rocks.

The Wedge waves were breaking on top of the rock jetty as 6-foot to 10-foot waves slammed the shore, down a notch from the previous day. A handful of spectators lined the beach to watch the dozen or so surfers and bodyboarders ride waves Tuesday morning before the 10 a.m. “blackball,” which prohibits flotation devices in the water. Bodysurfers took  to the water after the board riders left.

Up the coast, Los Angeles County Fire Lifeguard spokesman Pono Barnes said extra staffing will be added for rescues and to remind people to social distance in anticipating of the opening of county beaches, which have been closed for about six weeks.

Because of the strong swell and rip currents, there will also be an uneven ocean bottom that could be a hazard, he said. Beachgoers should check in with lifeguards for dangers and always swim or surf within their abilities.

“There’s going to be a bit of itchiness to get in the water,” he said of when people are allowed to return to the sands. “It’s always good to idea to do a bit of a self inventory with equipment -– and your ability.”

Lifeguards will be juggling not just the action in the water, but reminding beachgoers to keep moving.

Visitors going to Los Angeles beaches when they open will be allowed to recreate, meaning walking, jogging, swimming, surfing or doing some sort of exercise, but they won’t be allowed to lay out a towel to sunbathe. Also, people will need to wear face masks at the beach, according to the LA County Department of Beaches and Harbors.

“It’s definitely going to be a different shift in mentality,” Barnes said, noting lifeguards will also be wearing face masks while on the beach. “We’re still going to make rescues and make sure everyone is safe.”

Some surfers couldn’t wait for the official opening, with wave riders paddling out the past few days at Malibu’s famed surf spot just north of the pier.

Barnes said that stretch of beach is still closed and it’s up to local law enforcement to enforce. It’s the same stretch of beach a stand-up paddler tried to evade police and lifeguards just after the shutdown, eventually brought to shore and hauled off across the sand.

But the same force wasn’t seen this week as rules were starting to loosen up.

“We do our best to advise the public of the health order and sometimes we need to to lean on our law enforcement partners to help,” Barnes said.

State Parks beaches in Los Angeles County, such as Leo Carrillo, will also open for active recreation, still with parking restrictions, starting Wednesday, said Kevin Pearsall, State Parks Orange Coast District spokesperson.

In Huntington Beach and Bolsa, where there has been sizable surf, he urged surfers and swimmers be careful.

“There’s always the extra caution, especially nowadays with new rules and regulations, concerns and guidelines we all have to follow,” he said. “The days of going out there and catching a good wave and not having all the personal precautions in place are kind of on pause.

Recreate and enjoy your life, but you want to be cautious,” he said. “Don’t take any risks right now, because you don’t need any kind of higher-level medical care.”

According to, the swell is expected to drop to 3-feet to 4-feet waves on Wednesday with smaller waves in the 2-foot to 3-foot range later in the week.

Forecasts show another swell could be heading toward Southern California beaches early next week.

Source: Orange County Register

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