One group that always tends to cheer an approaching hurricane? Surfers.
The bigger, the better, and on Friday the slowly deteriorating conditions did not deter more than two dozen surfers and paddle boarders in Myrtle Beach from taking advantage of the unusually high waves.
“The waves north of here are rolling in really big,” said Larry Maiolo, who was paddle boarding on the increasingly choppy water. “It’s a little rough, but once you get on there it’s a good ride, that’s for sure.”
Just before and just after is when the (waves) are usually really good, but it’s definitely rough today.
He said hurricanes are “a surfer’s dream” for enthusiasts on the Grand Strand, which rarely gets large waves. The surf in the aftermath of storms tends to be good too, he said.
“Just before and just after is when the (waves) are usually really good, but it’s definitely rough today,” he said.
Hurricane waves can be three or four times the size of normal surf. The winds generated by tropical storms tend to blow in gusts, which result in waves forming into “sets” that make them easier to catch.
“These waves are pretty big,” said August Powalie, a 10-year-old surfer who his instructor nicknamed “the ripper.” As the ocean got rougher around midday on Friday, he said he still planned to go back in.
This is a surfer’s dream.
“I’m going to try. The waves are higher today, but yesterday the [surfing was] cleaner,” he said. Powalie was born after the last major hurricane to pass through the area, Hurricane Charley in 2004, and said he was “a little nervous” but also excited for his first big storm.
His instructor, Josh Desjardins, had been surfing since sunrise Friday. He said he planned on coming back for more in the afternoon.
“Oh yeah, I’m staying all day,” he said, shrugging off concerns about the weather. “I’m not worried, this is great.”
Ryan Riddei said he’d rate Friday’s pre-hurricane surfing “a 7 out of 10.” Like most surfers on the beach Friday, he said the last time he remembered waves of this size was Charley in 2004.
Phones started sounding loud alarms up and down the beach around 11 on Friday morning when Horry County was officially put under a hurricane warning.
A Myrtle Beach police van connected the alarm to a speaker, making it heard over the sound of the wind as a warning for surfers to start getting out of the water – with little luck.
“It’s not anything threatening right now,” said Jeff Forehand, shaking his head, as he watched police sound the alarm tone. “You just have to watch the fronts.”
$260 Fine for ignoring police orders to evacuate the beach
Myrtle beach police warned that surfers are “a danger to themselves” if they stay in the water during a hurricane warning. Surfers who chose to ignore the warning and stay in the water can be fined $260, police told The Sun News, but it’s relatively rare.
“I’ve never run into that situation,” said Chris Forehand as he left the beach, surfboard under his arm. “I’m sure they could fine you, but I’ve never gotten ticketed. As (the storm) gets closer people are kind of scattering back to their houses, but we’ve got some time before that happens.”
As for the waves, Chris Forehand said he had hoped for more after all the hype about Hurricane Matthew, which was still making its way up the Florida coastline on Friday.
“It’s not that great actually, it’s pretty small for having a Category 4 off the coast,” he said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday warned surfers in his state not to go near the beach, but was promptly ignored in many areas.
“Do not surf. Do not go to the beach,” he said. “This storm will kill you.”
Around noon on Friday police said they would not be able to stay on the beach much longer, as the water rose rapidly and started lapping the tires of their van.
The stormy surf also drew spectators, who sat along the beach watching and filming the waves. Beth Urban, a lifelong Myrtle Beach resident, said it’s been a tradition to come watch the water sports before a storm rolls in.
“I remember before Hurricane Floyd, that’s the most surfers I ever saw on the beach,” she said about the 1999 storm. “If it’s coming you might as well take advantage, but I have respect for it. Even now after 60-something years, with the storm coming I’m (…) a little anxious, a little excited.”
Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @VeraMBergen