Crowd watch big waves from Balboa Pier

NEWPORT BEACH — Lifelong surfer Billy Lewis stood on Balboa Pier watching the waves Thursday afternoon. Spots of water from the splashes shooting upward dotted his face, shirt and hat.

"I had to take a look at it. I'm a surfer," the Newport Beach resident said.

Hundreds joined Lewis on the pier because no one around there was up to experiencing Mother Nature first hand. Waves were up to 8 feet on average, with some peaking as high as 12, lifeguards said.

The sand around the pier was absent of any people braving the waves, and only a few tried dipping their feet in the shorebreak.

"A lot of people aren't from around here and haven't seen something like this," Lewis said. "It's like going to the mountains."

While the crowd watched walls of water slam onto the beach, city workers built their own mountains of sand to keep the slams at bay.

Bulldozers built up 6-foot sand berms on either side of the pier — enough to keep the water out of the parking lot for most of the day. A day earlier, the combination of an unusually high tide, plus a considerable southern swell, wreaked havoc on the Balboa Peninsula.

City officials haven't estimated the damage or the cleanup costs yet.

"We're going to get through these couple of days and work at that," said Mark Harmon, of the city General Services Department.

Farther south at The Wedge, thousands gathered to watch a handful of brave bodyboarders take on the biggest waves — some higher than 15 feet — to hit Newport in two years.

During the last major southern swell in 2009, one surfer was killed when he was smashed against the east jetty at the mouth of the harbor.

Some avoided risking such a fate by trying their skills elsewhere.

Her wetsuit drying under the sun and sand flaking off her ankles, Lili Bess hosed off her longboard at a Sunset Beach house about an hour after paddling out near 9th Street.

"It's big this week," she said, her eyes getting bigger. "This is unusually big for August. It was bigger in the morning."

Bess grew up in Southern California and went to Huntington Beach High School. She's been surfing since she was 10, but said Thursday's waves were too much for her.

"When you're little, like 80 pounds, with a board half the size, the physics are different," she said.

She added "but now, over 40 [years old], with this board," she doesn't want to risk getting injured — or worse.

Three or four surfers were far offshore to catch the big waves at Sunset Beach midday, while a couple of guys bodyboarded in the shorebreak, avoiding the watery chaos farther out.

Tom Roba, 36, was one of those bodyboarders.

"I would probably be getting swept … by the rip if I was out there," said the former Huntington Beach resident, who now lives in Czech Republic, as he pointed to the latest set coming in. "The day would be difficult for beginners. Once you're out there, it's really hard to get out. If you get tired, you start making mistakes."

Though a paradise for many surfers, concerns about the waves remained along the Orange Coast.

The U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday called off a search for Jowayne Bindford, 24, of Long Beach, who had gone missing off Surfside, a gated enclave between Seal Beach and Sunset Beach.

Bindford, according to an alert from the Coast Guard, was last spotted on his board 200 yards offshore at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

A Coast Guard helicopter dispatched from Los Angeles and a response boat from Long Beach spent nine hours scouring Seal Beach, Sunset Beach and Huntington Beach. Bindford's family kept vigil along the coast, according to theOrange County Register.

The Coast Guard said it would resume the search if new information about Bindford became available.


— Lauren Williams, John Canalis and Jamie Rowe also contributed to this report


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