OCEAN CITY – Area surfers are incredibly stoked for this weekend as forecasters are calling for the biggest waves of the summer thanks to Hurricane Bill roaring hundreds of miles off the coast.
Likewise, the Ocean City Beach Patrol is gearing up too, but it is admittedly much more concerned than elated, as lifeguards may have their work cut out for them with the inevitable rip currents that will accompany the huge waves.
According to swellinfo.com, an up-to-the-minute surf forecasting website, Ocean City can expect “double-to-triple overhead waves on Saturday and double overhead waves on Sunday.”
In layman’s terms, the National Weather Service is calling for waves in excess of six to eight feet high this weekend, which has awakened the surfing community from a rideable-at-best summer surfing season and provided a storm that could provide what one local surfer called “an early Christmas present.”
“I can’t remember the last time that they were calling for the surf to be this big,” said local surfer Matthew Vought. “It’s going to sweep in and be huge, and then be on its way, so I hope the wind, which is always a big factor, doesn’t junk the waves up for us.”
K-Coast Surf Shop co-owner Chris Shanahan said that the buzz around the surfing community in anticipation of this storm is reaching a fever pitch for a summer storm.
“It’s definitely bringing a lot of people out of the woodwork like the old surfers who aren’t as active as they used to be,” said Shanahan. “Everyone is coming into the shop and getting their gear tweaked and ready to go for the weekend.”
Shanahan said that the storm is providing a bit of a shot in the arm for business as well, especially for surfboard sales and leashes and fins.
“It’s definitely been a long time since I’ve seen them call for these types of waves, and some of the guys that were out there [Thursday] said that you can already feel the ground swell picking up speed, so I think it’s going to be a good one.”
Hurricane Bill is the second named storm of the young hurricane season and had been upgraded to a category 4 Hurricane on Wednesday, before being downgraded to a category 3 on Thursday morning.
Forecasters said that the storm could pick up speed again as it continues its path through warm water and should get no closer to the Ocean City shoreline than several hundred miles.
Beach patrol officials are warning swimmers to be careful of dangerous and powerful rip currents which could mean that lifeguards might spend as much time in the water as they do in their stands if swimmers don’t heed to warnings.
In 2008, when Hurricane Bertha swept off the coast, the beach patrol saved over 1,500 people in a one-week period, almost 900 of them coming on the weekend. It should also be noted, that like Bill, Bertha never got any closer to Ocean City than several hundred miles.
Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin attributed “90 percent” of the saves during Hurricane Bertha to his descriptions of the conditions as a “surf phenomena” and also noted in a previous interview with The Dispatch that in Ocean City, the shore break is so severe that there is a risk for severe head and neck injuries to swimmers who could be slammed into the ocean floor by the powerful waves.
With the shorebreak in mind, Shanahan said that he expects most of the waves to be caught outside of Ocean City, either at Assateague Island or at northern surfing hotspots like the Indian River Inlet.
“In town, it may not even be rideable because the waves just jack up and dump down so hard on the shoreline, so I think that you’ll probably see a lot of broken boards for anyone that tries to surf in town,” said Shanahan. “Then again, you might find some local guys down in Hatteras already, and they’ll just follow the waves up the coast.”
Local surfer Timmy Carven said the conditions, including the offshore winds that would provide an ideal situation for would-be surfers, are looking “perfect” heading into the weekend.
“I’m hoping that it ends up being bigger than what they are calling for, but if it gets too big in Ocean City, they may just shut the beaches down,” said Carven. “I’m guessing it will be double overhead with a 10-foot face, or at least that’s what I’m hoping for, as it’s been too long since we had a good storm like this.”