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Surfers Flock To The Water, As Huge Waves Hit The West Coast


In Southern California, strong riptides and huge surf are scouring the coast. It's all thanks to Hurricane Marie. The storm is turning hundreds of miles to the Southwest off the coast of Baja, California. There's been some flooding in cities around Los Angeles. And authorities are urging people to stay out of the water. But these are exactly the kinds of conditions that expert surfers live for. NPR's Kirk Siegler sent us this postcard today from Newport Beach.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The best place to check out the huge swells and those who dare ride them is here at a famous spot known as the wedge. Huge, aqua green waves bounce off of a long rock jetty and collide with incoming swells. And when the surfer catches one of these 15-foot high bad boys...


SIEGLER: ...It's a real crowd-pleaser.


SCOTTY BRETTESON: That was fun. Some waves coming through for sure.

SIEGLER: Surfer Scotty Bretteson drove down from L.A. early this morning for a piece of the action.

BRETTESON: You know, in the higher tide, it's probably going to - it breaks in pretty close, so definitely have to get in there and make sure you make the drops so you don’t go over the falls, you know, and hurt yourself.

SIEGLER: You're out of breath from paddling, I'm sure, but also a little adrenaline?

BRETTESON: Yeah, definitely. Definitely some adrenaline. That's why I'm here.

SIEGLER: There are also hundreds of people here lining the beach to watch, including Peggy Schmidt and Karen Barren.

PEGGY SCHMIDT: We have friends in from Seattle, and this is the best tourist attraction there is when it's firing. So it's a lot of fun for them to get to see the waves.

KAREN BARREN: We heard this was the equivalent of a snow day.


SCHMIDT: Yes, in California, this is a snow day. Everyone cuts from work and school and comes out to watch the wedge.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: There you go. There you go. Look at that. Oh, good ride, good ride.

SIEGLER: We're watching just wave after wave come in. Here comes the surfer right in the swell and he just bit it. 15-20 feet high, I'd say. These are the kinds of waves you'd expect to see in Hawaii or Australia or on surf videos. And there are a lot of people filming here.


SIEGLER: There's even a handful of drones. Frankie Desoro owns this one. It can fly for 20 minutes right up close. It's the best way to film all the action. But Desoro was a surfer himself.

SIEGLER: Are you bummed to not be out there yourself?

FRANKIE DESORO: Kind of. It's a little - I'm not going to lie. It's kind of - it's kind of gnarly out there so I'm not too bummed. So it's fun to watch.

SIEGLER: A few people have been treated for minor injuries here this morning. And lifeguards and fire departments are busy today. Yesterday, an hour to the North, a surfer died in Malibu. And authorities are trying to urge everyone but the experts to stay on the shore and sit this one out.

JOHN LAGONDYA: I'm kind of tired. I almost drowned.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: This guy's a big-wave surfer. He just got that last huge one.

SIEGLER: John LaGondya gets out of the water and walks into the crowd clutching his board, feeling a little spooked.

LAGONDYA: Yeah, you know, it's serious out there. You know (Laughter) I need to catch my breath for a second.

SIEGLER: But a few seconds later, he's back in the water. Kirk Siegler, NPR news, Newport Beach, California. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.