- 09 December 2009 | Surfing
With a building El Niño weather condition, surfers throughout the Hawaiian Islands have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of extra-large surf - and over the last two days the Pacific Ocean delivered the biggest waves seen there in years.
At famous breaks like Waimea Bay on Oahu and Jaws in Maui, the world's top big wave riders challenged the mammoth swell, spawned by an intense low pressure system which formed northwest of the Islands over the weekend.
At Waimea Bay, thousands of spectators jammed traffic on Kamehameha Highway as locals and tourists alike stopped to see surfers paddling in to towering 30 to 40 foot breakers on a gray and ominous day. Meanwhile, big wave riders and onlookers in Maui were treated to a beautiful sunny day with even larger surf, well suited to tow-in surfing using jet-powered watercraft in waves reaching the 50-foot mark.
Sean Collins, head forecaster for Surfline.com, said this swell ranks in the top five biggest ever experienced on Oahu's North Shore, comparable to historic El Niño-fueled episodes in 1998 and 1969.
The extreme surf is expected to continue for several days with High Surf Advisories issued for all north-facing shorelines of the entire Hawaiian Chain.
The swell is so powerful forecasters expect it to significantly impact the West Coast of North America in the coming days, reaching California on Wednesday and Mexico on Thursday, working its way south throughout the Pacific until finally reaching Chile over a week from now.
The greatest performances of the landmark swell will become entries in the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards, which honor the biggest and best rides of each year based on the photographic evidence.
The tenth-annual Billabong XXL Awards will take place in April in California and will present over US$130,000 in prize money in categories including XXL Biggest Wave, Monster Paddle, Monster Tube and the coveted Ride of the Year. This week's Hawaiian action is expected to figure heavily when XXL nominees are announced in March.