Residents Watch and Wait as Sea Puts on a Show
From the Rincon to County Line Beach, a furious Pacific Ocean put on a show for Ventura County coastal dwellers Friday, as powerful waves hammered roads, homes and anything else that stood in their way.
The 10- to 15-foot tidal swells crashed through living rooms in Solimar and Faria beaches, flooded streets in Ventura and Oxnard and forced the closure of a 5-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway.
“Awesome. Awesome. It’s just unbelievable,” said Ventura attorney Rick Loy, an avid surfer who spent more than an hour watching the massive swells wallop the Ventura Pier, which sustained only minor damage.
“I told my secretary that if people call, tell them something’s come up and I’ll get back to them,” Loy said. “Of course, what came up is the surf.”
Santa Barbara surfers Max McDonald and Charlie Ross pulled over at this notorious surf break with other wave watchers, gleefully snapping photographs.
“This is epic swell,” McDonald yelled.
Maybe so. But their surf boards stayed strapped to the car.
“It’s life or death out there,” McDonald said. “You don’t want to mess around.”
Ben Lane scrambled to save the fish from a small pond outside his Solimar Beach home. But as the waves continued to pound at the house, Lane rushed to help out inside, where a maid was attempting to sweep out waves crashing into the house, only to see it inundated again seconds later by another wave.
“Honey,” said wife Marilyn, “we should have put the plastic over the furniture this morning.
“Don’t worry,” he replied. “We have insurance.”
About 7:30 a.m., an unidentified surfer lost his board in massive surf at this popular break near the mouth of the Ventura River.
Waves carried his board to the beach. But the strong currents washed the surfer on a dangerous path through the barnacle-ridden pilings of the Ventura Pier and out the other side.
He escaped unscathed and reached shore near San Jon Road, nearly a mile down the coast from where he started.
“It’s like a river,” said Brian Brennan, past president of the Surfrider Foundation and now a Ventura city councilman. “You think you’re paddling out, but you are literally paddling sideways.”
Once again, the Ventura Pier was battered by 18- to 20-foot waves that at high tide crashed onto the pier’s surface.
The 126-year-old landmark was closed down at 8 a.m. and will remain so through the weekend. Officials said they will assess the damage once the tides subside.
But they were quick to credit a $600,000 bracing and piling replacement job just completed in December for keeping damage to less than $20,000.
More than 200 spectators lined the pier promenade Friday morning, snapping photos and shooting video of the towering waves bearing down on the now-stalwart structure. Nearby volleyball courts sat under a lake of seawater. Cobblestones were tossed around the beach like pebbles.
“I haven’t seen it this big since I was a kid,” said Kent Elder of Ojai.
Meanwhile, business was bustling all morning long at Eric Ericsson’s On The Pier.
People were downright giddy down in Ventura’s beach neighborhood, where waves came up over beach access stairs and onto a few porches.
After all, it’s not every day you can be like Will Osborn, who got to say the words “batten down the hatches” and board up all the windows on his Greenock Lane home.
Next door, neighbor Dean Daily, sockless in black shoes and shorts, waded through water half a foot deep on his porch as he swept the seawater back out where it belongs.
If conditions get worse with another high tide expected around 10:30 a.m. today, Daily vowed to be ready. Even with the 35 people he expects to attend a choir retreat at his home.
“We’ll sing and sweep if we have to,” he said.
The harbor mouth was all but closed Friday morning, with officials advising mariners to avoid coming or going. Waves 10 to 15 feet high knocked out a 10-foot-tall Coast Guard navigational light overnight, said Patrol Officer Bob Crane.
The high seas didn’t cause any serious difficulties for boaters, although two fishing boats were unable to get out of the harbor and another had to be talked in by officers.
Even a harbor patrol boat responding to a drifting surfer had to wait 25 minutes for swells to subside before it could reenter the port.
Here in Oxnard’s only beach neighborhood, some took advantage of a warm, sunny day and their suddenly beach-front property as ocean water rushed down their streets.
Driftwood Street resident Marvin Canton discovered a welcome surprise as he moved everything in his garage up a few feet to outpace the rising surf.
“I saw this raft in there that I’m gonna’ have to return soon,” he said. “So I figured, what better use for it?”
And there he was, wearing nothing but a pair of maroon swimming trunks and a straw hat, floating down Mandalay Beach Road.
“It almost seems like a dream,” he said.
Thornhill Broom Beach Campground
As the high tide peaked about 10:30 a.m., state park officials closed the southern third of the 90-site campground, where cars lined up along Pacific Coast Highway to get a glimpse of the waves.
Parts of the campground were under 6 inches of water.
Damage was limited to a chemical toilet floating down a campground road.
“People look at this as damage,” Ranger Tony Hoffman said of the coastal pounding. “Damage to what? Structures man has erected? I look at this as Mother Nature rearranging the furniture.”
County Line Beach
At this other prime break at the Los Angeles-Ventura County line, dozens of onlookers oohed and ahhed at the big breakers. Big, burly surfers full of bravado looked like tiny ticks when out in the line up next to the huge waves.
Surfing here was nothing short of frustrating for those who dared. With waves moving like speeding freight trains, only a few surfers were able to paddle fast enough to catch one. And when they broke . . . well, that’s where the oohs and aahs came in.
Mimi Winters likened the booming shoreline specter to a disaster of a different sort.
“It’s like a constant earthquake,” said Winters, who lives in a beach-front townhouse. “The shaking never stops.”
Time staff writers Chris Chi, staff photographer Alan Hagman and correspondents Nick Green, Dawn Hobbs and Veronique de Turenne contributed to this story.
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Heavy Surf Pounds Ventura County Coastline
Ten-to -15-foot swells flooded and damaged 11 homes as well as several beach and park areas around the county Friday. Heavy surf is expected to continue today as a new storm moves into the county.
1. Rincon Beach
2. Mussel Shoal Beach
3. Faria Beach
4. Solimar Beach
5. Surfers Point
6. Promenade Park
7. Marina Park
8. Mandalay State Beach
9. Port Hueneme Beach Park
10. Los Angeles County line-area beaches