LONG BEACH, Calif. – Sand bags and surfers populated Southern California beaches Tuesday in anticipation of potentially damaging surf spawned by Hurricane Marie spinning off Mexico's Pacific coast.
While workers hurried to fortify beaches and protect low-lying areas against flooding from the waves, crowds gathered to watch the swells roll in.
At The Wedge in Newport Beach, a famous surfing spot, dozens of gawkers lined the beach and watched bodysurfers get pounded by storm-driven waves up to 10 feet high. People took photos and video and clapped, whistled, and cheered when a bodysurfer caught one of the swells.
Lifeguards with flippers and rescue batons at the ready patrolled the edge of the water and two rescue boats kept an eye on the dozen or so brave souls in the water. An ambulance was on stand-by near the beach.
Would-be big-wave surfers who came out said they were hoping for swells up to 30 feet when the storm system peaks on Wednesday. If that materializes, it will be the biggest wave event at The Wedge since 1997, when Hurricane Linda produced monster swells, said Tim Burnham, who's making a documentary about the famed surfing locale.
"This is the stuff that you dream of: rainbows, unicorns, Southern Hemi swells, hurricane swells," he said as he dried off from a session in the waves.
"You definitely have a healthy amount of fear," Burnham said. "You know, you don't want to be stupid. You're here to push yourself, but at the end of the day you want to go home to your family."
The National Weather Service said beaches stretching 100 miles up the Southern California coast would see large waves and rip currents. Swimmers and surfers were urged to be aware of the dangerous conditions.
In the city of Long Beach's Peninsula neighborhood, residents watched as bulldozers built huge sand berms between the ocean and their homes. Several took the warning to heart and shoveled sand into bags to place around their garage doors and entryways.
Deborah Popek, who's lived in the area 20 years, took a walk along the boardwalk with her cat, Sophie, to check the surf and see how neighbors were preparing. She's had flooding in the past.
"It's always at the last minute that everybody panics because, you know, we don't expect things to happen," she said. "But they're really taking things seriously because the sandbar is as high as they've ever built it right now."
A few yards down the boardwalk, resident Corey Nelson shoveled sand into bags with a friend's help. A firefighter had been to his home Monday with a warning about 10- to 15-foot waves at a breakwater that protects the Long Beach shoreline.
"We've had the water go over the breakwater right here and into our planter, and I mentioned that to him and he said, 'Well expect that times three,'" Nelson said.