‘Surf City comes to Hilo’

  • Photos by HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    A surfer prepares to take advantage of a northeast swell Wednesday in Hilo Bay.

  • Keiki play in a wave caused by a northeast swell Wednesday along the Hilo Bayfront.

  • A surfer takes advantage of a northeast swell Wednesday along Hilo Bayfront.

  • Photos by HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Surfers rinse off after taking advantage of a northeast swell Wednesday at Kaipalaoa Landing Park in Hilo.

The once-in-a-decade type of surf predicted for the Big Island’s windward shores materialized Wednesday, and surfers took full advantage of large, rideable waves along Hilo’s Bayfront.

“It was ‘Surf City comes to Hilo,’” said Stan Lawrence, owner of Orchid Land Surfboards, who has provided local radio stations with surf reports for decades.

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“We get surf every year, but this size surf? Oh, let’s say once every 10 years,” he said.

Lawrence estimated the surf inside the Hilo Bay breakwall at a “solid six to eight” feet “with maybe some 10-foot sets on the outside.”

“But the biggest waves are outside the breakwater,” he added. “There, the waves are 15 feet to even bigger waves outside.”

According to Lawrence, anyone wanting to tackle the high surf outside the breakwall would need “a jet ski and boat backup.”

The surf is courtesy of a northeast swell just off the coast of California, according to weather forecasters.

While Honolii, on the northern outskirts of Hilo, and Pohoiki, in lower Puna, are the usual hot spots for East Hawaii’s surfers, dozens took advantage of the clean, consistent sets Wednesday morning on the Bayfront.

Professional surfer Jimmy Ulualoha “Ulu Boi” Napeahi of Puna, who spent most of the winter on the North Shore of Oahu and just returned from competitions in Tahiti, emerged from Hilo Bay with a huge smile.

“Excellent waves, long rides, had to be selective,” Napeahi said. “My dad said it was one of the biggest days in 10 or 15 years.”

Fire Rescue received a 911 call Wednesday morning to a report of a surfer in distress on the Bayfront, but no rescue was needed.

“He may have been in a little trouble earlier, but when we arrived, he said he was fine,” said Hawaii Fire Department Battalion Chief Darwin Okinaka.

Okinaka, like others, was impressed with the size of the surf and the number of surfers along the Bayfront.

“I haven’t seen the amount of waves going toward the Keaukaha direction, the true north swell, or the amount of people out there, in years,” he said. “Guys were surfing in front of the (Mooheau Park) bandstand, the waves were so far over.”

As of press time, Hilo Bayfront Highway remained the only road closed, although the county Department of Parks and Recreation closed the Bayfront canoe hale, Coconut Island (Moku Ola) and all beach parks along Kalanianaole Avenue between Reeds Bay Beach Park and Richardson Ocean Park.

No reports of damage came in by Wednesday afternoon, but Talmadge Magno, county Civil Defense administrator, said that at the Polynesia Capri Townhouse Apartments, on Pukihae Street just north of Hilo’s Singing Bridge, waves “washed up and contacted some of their units, but nothing damaged.”

Police say that at Kahakahakea Point in Ka‘u, Duane A. Breithaput, a 54-year-old opihi picker from Naalehu, drowned Wednesday after falling into the water. Family members reported at about 12:44 p.m., a large wave swept him into the ocean, where he struggled before disappearing.

It’s not known if the wave is associated with the northeasterly swell, and Breithaupt’s death is being investigated as a public accident.

A high surf warning remains in effect for the shorelines in windward Kohala, Hamakua, North and South Hilo and Puna until 6 p.m. today, and Lawrence expects surfers should be able to find rides again today.

“It might be a little bit smaller, but it still should be very good sized,” he said.

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Tribune-Herald Community Editor Richard Couch contributed to this story.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.