Heavy surf churned by two hurricanes off Baja California have pounded the Orange County coastline, contributing to the death of a bodyboarder and imperiling hundreds of swimmers caught in strong rip currents at south-facing beaches.
The body of Jerrold Adams, 18, a high school student from Long Beach, was pulled from the surf about 10:15 p.m. Monday by two Seal Beach police officers and two civilians. They were part of a search team that had combed the beach for almost two hours after Adams was reported missing, Seal Beach Police Sgt. Dean Zanone said.
Although the exact cause of death has yet to be determined, Zanone said Adams appeared to have drowned in the unusually high surf. Friends told police that Adams was not a strong swimmer.
Waves during the evening at Seal Beach were measured up to four feet high, largely because of hurricanes Hernan and Iselle off of Baja California.
"I don't think he would have been out here if we had had our usual one- to two-foot surf," Zanone said.
The waves Tuesday measured eight to 10 feet in some places, prompting lifeguards at several beaches to post red flags warning against swimming. Lifeguards at county beaches told The Times that about 360 swimmers caught in rip currents had to be rescued Tuesday.
Most of the rescues took place in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, where the shorelines face the southerly swells spawned by the hurricanes.
In Newport Beach, lifeguards rescued more than 100 swimmers who, in many cases, ignored the red flags and were swept out to sea.
"It's so dangerous out there that we're trying to keep most people out who don't have fins," Newport Beach lifeguard Steve Froning said as he scanned the crashing waves from his 18th Street tower.
On one side of Froning's tower, yellow flags were posted to warn swimmers to be cautious. On the other side, red flags extended from 18th Street to 10th Street--along Newport's beaches that face most of the southern swells.
But the red flags sometimes do not have the intended affect.
"I saw the red flag and I said, 'Cool,' " Jim Bennett, 23, a bartender from Fountain Valley, said as he emerged from the surf to catch his breath. "The bigger the waves, the better the enjoyment."
"I go for the red flag--that's why I'm out here, to tell you the truth," said John Koltz, 26, a Newport Beach resident who took the day off from work to bodysurf.
Some other beach-goers heeded the red flag warning only after they discovered firsthand the treacherous nature of the waves.
"I just changed my mind. It's too scary out there," said Mike Cullen, 14, of San Antonio as he stumbled ashore. "I went out there and tried to get out, but the riptide kept pulling me to the side. So I came back, because I didn't want to be rescued."
Big waves generate rip currents in which swimmers can be pulled hundreds of feet from shore, said Chris Daniels, a lifeguard dispatcher in Laguna Beach. Daniels said the water rushes onto the beach, then flows quickly back out to sea--pulling sand, seaweed and swimmers with it.
Seal Beach police did not know whether rip currents contributed to Adams' death. Zanone said the young man's body showed signs of head trauma, indicating that he may have hit the pier.
Adams and two friends were reportedly visiting the beach for the first time when they decided to take an evening ride on their bodyboards.
Although there were few people in the water, it was fairly crowded on the sand, Zanone said: "It was a warm night. And on warm nights you will have some people go in the water."
At 8:45 p.m., when Adams' bodyboard washed ashore south of the pier near 10th Street, his friends began looking for him. Minutes later, unable to find him, they called police, Zanone said.
Police--with help from Seal Beach lifeguards, Long Beach lifeguards, the county Harbor Patrol and a Newport Beach Police helicopter--combed the beach with searchlights, Zanone said.
At 10:15 p.m., Adams was found unconscious, floating under the pier. Rescuers were unable to revive him, Zanone said.
An autopsy was performed Tuesday but results are pending. There were no signs of foul play, Zanone said.
Staff writer James M. Gomez contributed to this story.