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Photos: Seal Beach’s massive, mutant waves put on a show

The mutant winter waves have woken from their slumber.

Surf spots were firing on Friday, Jan. 13, across Southern California, with a break in the rain allowing expert riders to seek out big waves from the South Bay to San Clemente and beyond.

Another round of big surf is hitting Southern California, not expected to cause damage but one surf spot in particular has been making waves and experienced surfers are taking advantage in Seal Beach on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Another round of big surf is hitting Southern California, not expected to cause damage but one surf spot in particular has been making waves and experienced surfers are taking advantage in Seal Beach on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Another round of big surf is hitting Southern California, not expected to cause damage but one surf spot in particular has been making waves and experienced surfers are taking advantage in Seal Beach on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Another round of big surf is hitting Southern California, not expected to cause damage but one surf spot in particular has been making waves and experienced surfers are taking advantage in Seal Beach on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Spectators line the berm as another round of big surf is hitting Southern California, not expected to cause damage but one surf spot in particular has been making waves in Seal Beach on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Another round of big surf is hitting Southern California, not expected to cause damage but one surf spot in particular has been making waves and experienced surfers are taking advantage in Seal Beach on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Another round of big surf is hitting Southern California, not expected to cause damage but one surf spot in particular has been making waves and experienced surfers are taking advantage in Seal Beach on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Another round of big surf is hitting Southern California, not expected to cause damage but one surf spot in particular has been making waves and experienced surfers are taking advantage in Seal Beach on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Another round of big surf is hitting Southern California, not expected to cause damage but one surf spot in particular has been making waves and experienced surfers are taking advantage in Seal Beach on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Spectators line the berm as another round of big surf is hitting Southern California, not expected to cause damage but one surf spot in particular has been making waves in Seal Beach on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Heather Leonard and her daughter Maggie watch as another round of big surf is hitting Southern California, not expected to cause damage but one surf spot in particular has been making waves in Seal Beach on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Another round of big surf is hitting Southern California, not expected to cause damage but one surf spot in particular has been making waves and experienced surfers and body boarders are taking advantage in Seal Beach on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Another round of big surf is hitting Southern California, not expected to cause damage but one surf spot in particular has been making waves and experienced surfers are taking advantage in Seal Beach on Friday, January 13, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

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But there’s been a big buzz about one spot in particular: Seal Beach, a stretch of shore where spectators have been showing up to watch in awe from a sand berm as wave riders tackle wild surf breaks.

Seal Beach’s southside shorebreak is a gritty, fickle wave that appears during winter months, only with the right swell direction and only when the sandbars are just so.

It is winter’s version of the Wedge in Newport Beach and it draws a mix of bodyboarders and expert surfers –this is not surf a novice should try.

On Friday, massive waves were also rolling off the nearby rock jetty further south, and even further out in the ocean, they were breaking off oil platform Esther, a rare sight to see.

Surf photographer Joe Katchka figured Seal Beach hasn’t broken this big, and this consistently, since the ’90s, saying some of the waves rolling through on Friday were in the 15-foot-plus range.

“If you’re not experienced, don’t even think about it,” he said. “Not even the water photographers are going out there, there’s too much water movement.”

Photographer Michael Latham called it the biggest Seal Beach surf he’s ever seen.

And through the morning, word was spreading fast and folks were flocking to watch the surfing show, Katchka said. “The berm is turning into an ant farm.”

Eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater showed up in Seal Beach to catch waves on Jan. 6, 2022, creating a buzz in the small surf town. (Photo courtesy of Ed Smith/@seatechfoto)

Eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater showed up in Seal Beach to catch waves on Jan. 6, 2022, creating a buzz in the small surf town. (Photo courtesy of Ed Smith/@seatechfoto)

Two-time U.S. Open of Surfing Brett Simpson is a familiar face at the novelty wave in Seal Beach, a bombing wave that breaks onto shallow shore just south of the pier. (Photo courtesy of Ed Smith/@seatechfoto)

Eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater showed up in Seal Beach to catch waves on Jan. 6, 2022, creating a buzz in the small surf town. (Photo courtesy of Ed Smith/@seatechfoto)

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The surf spot created a big buzz last week when 11-time world champion Kelly Slater came out to play one morning, a rare sighting for the quaint, tight-knit surf town. 

While Slater sightings aren’t unheard at the famed Lower Trestles near San Clemente, considered one of the best breaks on the mainland, seeing him surfing off Seal Beach created a wave of excitement among local surfers young and old. Slater also stopped when he got out of the water to sign autographs and take photos, for quite some time, observers said.

Two-time US Open of Surfing champ Brett Simpson is another big name who paddled out that same day. From Huntington Beach, he grew up surfing the southside Seal Beach wave and is no stranger to the spot when it turns on.

“It’s kind of different when we get to surf here, it has a lot more ‘umph’ to it, it has that guts and glory,” Simpson described. “It’s the wave you don’t see here very often. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

Lifeguard Chief Joe Bailey said waves breaking at the oil platform happen about once a year, but this year it’s produced big waves at least four times. On Friday, a few surfers were towing in with foil boards near the oil rig, he said.

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“Any time waves are breaking under Esther, it’s a large swell,” he said.

Bailey warned people to know their abilities and stay out of the water if unsure. Last week’s swell resulted in several lifeguard rescues, including multiple broken bones, he said.

The pier was damaged on Friday, Jan. 6, when the big swell and high tides slammed the coast during the storm, and remains closed – likely will until late next week, Bailey said.

Waves are expected to be even larger on Saturday, an estimated 6- to 8-feet in Orange County and 8- to 10-feet in Los Angeles County, before easing slightly, though surf will remain big through Wednesday, according to Surfline.com.

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