At the San Francisco airport early Wednesday morning, I posted on Facebook that I was bound for Los Angeles. Immediately, my SoCal surf buddy Ian fired off a comment: “Hope you brought your board. It’s going off! Bro! It’s the best swell of the summer happening right now!”
Ian’s a perpetually stoked surfer, but that, if anything, was an understatement.
By the time I landed in L.A., 25-foot-high waves were rolling into Newport Beach. After a long summer of small surf, a hurricane named Marie—the biggest tropical storm to hit the eastern Pacific Ocean since 2010—has sent an epic swell to the Southern California coast. Surf breaks at Huntington Beach, Malibu, and other choice spots are more crowded than the 405 freeway at rush hour.
“Marie Delivers 20-Second Summer Barrels in Santa Barbara,” screamed Inertia, a digital surf magazine that posted a video of a surfer scoring an extraordinarily long ride through the tube of a perfect wave. “We’re talking a 20s barrel ride here! In California! By a normal dude!”
Along with dolphins and whales, surfers are on the front lines of ocean pollution and global warming. A study published last year gave surfers another reason to fight climate change: Researchers predicted that warming oceans would shrink the size of waves across 40 percent of the planet in the decades ahead. The study, based on computer modeling, underscored that waves, not just a rise in sea levels, will be part of how climate change affects the world’s coastlines.
But climate change can also create a surfer’s paradise on occasion. While scientists are loath to attribute any single weather event, such as Marie, to climate change, they have estimated that global warming will produce more frequent and intense hurricanes that spawn huge waves like we’ve seen in Southern California this week.
It’s not all epic rides though. A surfer drowned Tuesday at Malibu, and the surf has flooded homes along the coast.
Marie sent swells to Northern California as well, and friends tortured me by texting photos of six-foot waves at Bolinas on the Marin County coast.
“Big big big,” texted my friend John from Bolinas.
Marie has been downgraded to a tropical storm, and the waves will get smaller in the days ahead.
But for today, conditions are, as Surfline reported, “good to epic.”