Stab Magazine | "I Have Never Seen A Swell This Big In Hawaii"

“I Have Never Seen A Swell This Big In Hawaii”

Koa Rothman and Kelly Slater share their incredulity at Hawaii’s recent super-storm.

news // Feb 12, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Hawaii just got hit with a shit-ton of swell, but not in the Johnny-grab-your-gun kinda way. 

“A historically-strong Kona low” is what Surfline has called the massive wave-producing system that pelted north-facing Hawaiian coasts over the weekend.

According to North Shore local Koa Rothman and longtime land-owner Kelly Slater (whose birthday is today!), they’d never seen such a massive swell on the buoys. 

Screen Shot 2019 02 11 at 2.39.35 PM

We recommend you watch Koa Rothman’s IG story (here), which highlights some of the carnage around the North Shore.

Speaking of big swells, one might also recall the Jaws event that ran a few weeks before the 2018 Pipe Masters. While that system created big, perfect waves across many of the Hawaiian islands (including Pea’hi, Honolua, Pipe (before and after the swell peaked), and at a few of Oahu’s fabled outer reefs), it also nearly ripped away houses along Ehukai Beach Park, forcing residents to hold their front lawns together with sandbags and tarps. 


IMG 1397

This photo was taken one month after the swell in question.

So we started to wonder: are swells getting bigger, or is sea-level rise responsible for these remarkable damages?

While these are not mutually exclusive concepts, Ehukai home-owner and ever the curious type, Kelly Slater, had some thoughts on the matter. 

“I have to wonder whether there is positive data saying whether seas have risen at all,” the 11x Champ told Stab in December. “Hawaii had two years of higher sea levels but it was proven that it dissipated and they were confused as to why it was higher here and apparently lower in other areas of the Pacific. Mike Pietsche told me he had been studying it. We also had more hurricanes than normal that went up to the northeast of the islands giving annoying erosion swells. I just always remain a little skeptical of diving into any absolutes about this. We also had a huge loss of sand beyond the outside reefs that didn’t return to beaches a local guy has been studying independently. Interesting for sure but I’m not sure what is definitive.”

While we haven’t yet seen photos from the sand, one could imagine this storm had a similar-if-not-worse effect on the houses at Ehukai compared to the November Jaws swell. However “worse” is the more likely scenario, especially when you consider the increased buoy readings, the prior swell damage that had yet to be fixed, and the 30-knot onshores this recent storm entailed, which were not an issue in November when the wind was due east. 

Just look at this beast, coming up the stairs at Pipe!

Stab‘s thoughts go out to anyone who has been affected in the Hawaiian archipelago. Sadly, scientists predict that as our climate warms and sea level continues to rise, storms like this will only become more frequent and their effects direr, especially for small island regions like Hawaii.  


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