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SA surfer set for ‘Big Thursday’

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Grant Baker, pictured dropping down a giant wave at Tafelberg Reef, is pumped for possibly the biggest wave of his life, in Hawaii. Picture: Brenton Geach

Cape Town - They’re calling it “Big Thursday” – one of the most anticipated waves of the decade, as storm surf of gigantic proportions is expected to hit Hawaii.

And a top South African big wave surfer is due to be there, and possibly surf the biggest wave of his life.

“Oh my word, it’s really amazingly big,” said Cape Town surf forecaster Steve Pike, while studying weather charts on Wednesday.

Hawaii News Now reported on Wednesday, echoing reports on CNN and other media, that the National Weather Service in the US expects the waves to peak at 12m to 15m faces, “the biggest and most dangerous surf of the season if not the decade”.

“The waves are big, powerful and most positively deadly. The weight behind these waves can easily break bones and kill you and drown you,” said forecaster Mike Cantin. Another weather advisory warned: “Impacts, extreme, giant breaking surf. Anyone approaching the shoreline could face significant injury or death.”

Hawaii News Now quoted John Cummings III, of the Department of Emergency Management: “Don’t go in the water on the Leeward and North Shore sides. The waves will be too big even for professional surfers and swimmers.”

Even onlookers ashore were warned. “It could be the difference between life and death. You may be on rocks and think you are safe and that bigger wave set knocks you off and you’re gone,” said Cantin.

Pike, of wavescape.co.za, told the Cape Argus: “As groundswells grow in size from the original storm winds, they speed up and grow longer. The crucial thing, though, is that the energy that propels them grows, extending deeper into the ocean. The swells about to hit Hawaii reach down about 300m.

“People are going ballistic on Twitter. From what I can see from the actual forecasts, they’re due to get some of the biggest waves they’ve seen in recent years.”

Pike said swells of 12m to 15m could produce wave faces of 21m to 24m.

South African big wave superstar Grant “Twiggy” Baker is expected to be one South African who will be there.

Baker rode what is probably the biggest wave yet ridden by a South African, the outside reef of Dungeons, at the mouth of Hout Bay, which is known as Tafelberg Reef – a monster of 18m-plus.

“Riding waves this huge is something that even experts like Twiggy find exceptionally dangerous. Things can go wrong very quickly,” Pike explained.

“There are now very good safety procedures, such as built-in flotation devices in wetsuits. Previously, big wave surfers often didn’t know which way was up, being pounded by tons of water, but this shoots you to the surface.

“But still, if you get hit by a big wave board, which are heavily glassed, falling down the face of a wave, then you can still drown.

“You can be knocked unconscious, and even if your flotation device is activated, you won’t necessarily be found in time in the space of ‘football fields of churning ocean’. Or your board can ‘tombstone’, get trapped by something underwater, and you get held down by your leash, and can’t escape.”

Last week, Baker said on a Hawaiian TV station, as he arrived at Mavericks in northern California: “I’ve been in Europe for a couple of days. I’m jetlagged up, but s***, I’m on a roll, so let’s just keep on going!”

Another Cape big wave surfer, Chris Bertish, is also on his way to the US to catch the looming swell.

Cape Argus


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