Big waves, high tides bring hazardous conditions to Southern California beaches

A large wave crashes near a home on Beach Drive near Capistrano Beach during a high tide swell.
A large wave crashes near a home on Beach Drive near Capistrano Beach during a high tide swell that damaged a nearby beach parking lot.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

High tides and big swells are pounding Southern California, prompting beach advisories and causing localized flooding in some seaside areas.

Surfers and swimmers in Los Angeles and Ventura counties should expect dangerous conditions through Saturday evening, according to a hazard statement from the L.A. County Fire Department’s Lifeguard Division as well as the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Elevated surf, high tides and strong lateral and rip currents are expected at all beaches in those counties, the weather service said, with the highest surf expected on south-facing shores, such as in Malibu.

A swimmer escapes the rising tide at Capistrano Beach.
A swimmer escapes the rising tide at Capistrano Beach, where large sandbags had been placed to mitigate erosion from this week’s unusually high tide.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“There is an increased risk of ocean drowning,” the weather service said. The hazard statement, which is in effect until 11 p.m. Saturday for the Los Angeles County coastline and through 10 p.m. Saturday in Orange County, hasn’t been elevated to a warning or advisory by local lifeguards. “Rip currents can pull swimmers and surfers out to sea. Waves can wash people off beaches and rocks and capsize small boats nearshore.”

Surf will average 3 to 6 feet, with local sets to 7 feet, across Ventura and Los Angeles counties, including Santa Catalina Island, the weather service said. In Orange County, surf of 4 to 6 feet is expected Friday, with local sets up to 8 feet. Surf on Saturday will range from 4 to 6 feet.

California lawmakers introduced more than a dozen sea level rise bills this year — a political awakening experts say came not a moment too soon.

Aug. 20, 2021

Coupled with the big waves, high tides have caused coastal flooding in some cities.

In Laguna Beach, the Aliso Beach parking lot remained closed Friday. Orange County maintenance crews were working to clear the lot of debris swept in by the high tides, said Jason Ross, a marine safety lieutenant with Orange County Lifeguards.

A high surf advisory is in effect at some Orange County beaches, where red flags flew from lifeguard towers indicating hazardous conditions that are unsafe for novice beachgoers, Ross said.

Steve McCormack meets the surf coming ashore at Capistrano Beach on Aug. 19.
Steve McCormack meets the surf coming ashore at Capistrano Beach on Aug. 19.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The high tides took a toll in Malibu, where a portion of Westward Beach Road near Zuma Beach was washed away Thursday afternoon by the roughly 6-foot surf. Malibu officials said the roadway and the Westward Beach parking lot will probably be closed beyond Labor Day for repairs.

Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors were placing boulders in the area in hopes of preventing further damage.

Kealiinohopono “Pono” Barnes, an ocean lifeguard specialist with the L.A. County Fire Department, said high surf out of the south paired with large tidal swings from the upcoming full moon Sunday are causing the hazardous conditions.

He compared the ocean to a swimming pool that is filled to the brim with water and children splashing. “What’s happening is we have a lot of water moving in and out with the tides paired with large surf,” which increases the risk of rip currents, he said.

As sea levels rise, so will groundwater. A new study shows where rising groundwater could lead to flooding and damage in California.

Aug. 17, 2020

Those who venture into the water are encouraged to check in with a lifeguard first and swim only near open towers.


Even on shallow sandbars, swimmers are at risk of being pulled laterally into larger rip currents and carried out to sea, Barnes said.

The swell is grazing the south side of Santa Monica Bay, hitting the coastline at an angle. As a result, Barnes said, he was pulled more than 1,000 yards down the beach in 20 minutes while in the water Thursday.

A couple in their 30s were rescued Thursday evening after a high tide swept them off their feet near Sunken City, a popular cliffside overlook on the site of a natural landslide at Point Fermin in San Pedro, authorities said.

The woman suffered a leg injury and was airlifted to a hospital, said Brian Humphrey, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Fire Department.

City News Service contributed to this report.