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San Diego Gets Slammed with West Storm Swells

A surfer at Black’s Beach during the 50 Year Storm swell. Photo courtesy of Jack Fischer.

A huge west swell brewed in the Pacific Ocean early January 2023. According to the surf forecasting company Surfline, some of the biggest waves California has seen in decades hit the state’s coast. Buoys off the coast were reading wave sizes of 26.9 feet at 17 seconds; that particular buoy was installed in 2004 and has never read waves of that size before. 

Surf sports across the San Diego coastline maxed out. La Jolla Cove and Black’s Beach saw some of the biggest waves in San Diego county. Jack Fischer, a Point Loma Nazarene University second-year biology major and San Diego native, was at Black’s on Jan. 6 filming some of the surfers attempting to surf the huge waves. 

Fischer, like many others, was blown away by the sheer size and power of the waves. He said he hadn’t seen a wave in California that big before. 

“You know a wave is big when you look at it and it looks like it’s in slow motion,” Fischer said.

The swell brought flooding to some San Diego coastal cities. According to NBC 7, the National Weather Service sent out a coastal flood advisory, and Mission Beach Boardwalk was completely flooded the morning of Jan. 6. The flooding receded throughout the day and cleanup crews began cleaning up the boardwalk the following morning. Fischer said that the combination of the high tide and huge surf completely washed away the beach at Black’s. 

“At Black’s, there’s usually a 50 to 100-yard beach, even on high tide. But with the swell and everything, waves were going two feet up into the cliff,” Fischer said. 

Fischer continued to film his friends and surfers at Black’s for about four hours and witnessed the swell break boards and hold surfers down underwater for long periods of time. 

Located right off PLNU’s campus and a popular surf spot for students, Sunset Cliffs was also hit by the swell.  

Second-year biology major Andrew Kramer surfed the cliffs Jan. 11 and said the waves were around two feet overhead. The swell continued to surge through the first week and even posed danger to experienced surfers. 

Third-year nursing major Camden Ritchie, who grew up surfing and surfs the Cliffs regularly, had a rough experience with the big waves on Jan. 11.

According to Ritchie, the waves were so big that they became unrideable, and the strong currents posed a challenge when paddling out and catching waves.

While sitting in the lineup, Ritchie saw a set starting to break far outside, yet realized he was too far inside to make it over. As he attempted to duck dive the wave, his board came back up and hit him in the face, leaving him with a broken nose and a minor concussion.

“It was a big wave. I got hit in the face really hard and I came up with blurry vision,” Ritchie said. 

The San Diego City Lifeguard Service commented on how the swells should only be navigated by only the most experienced surfers in an email interview with The Point.

“Huge swells create extremely challenging swim and surf conditions and those entering the water should only be those who are very experienced and very advanced swimmers and surfers,” they said.  

The past two weeks have provided surfers in San Diego and at PLNU with plenty of waves. The swell has since died down and surfers are less likely to encounter extreme conditions when surfing the Sunset Cliffs.

Written By: Steve Anderson