Brave Surfers Can't Resist Call of California's Killer Waves

As if the destruction and death wrought by the Northwest storms weren't enough, the huge winds from those storms have churned up killer waves on the California coast, which took the life of a local surfing legend in Monterey County Tuesday.

Surfer Peter Davi, 45, lost his board and died while attempting to swim ashore at the Monterey surf spot known as Ghost Trees. Friends of the surfer later found his body floating unconscious in the water.

Accuweather metereologist Eric Wilhelm explained, "The big waves off the coast of California are a result of a very strong storm system that went through the Northwest. The tremendous winds are the big cause of these big-time waves."

But given the rare combination of light winds, ample sun, 80 degree temperatures and 8- to 12-foot waves, today could be considered an "epic" day for surfers, and a few brave souls continue to hit the water, despite the Davi tragedy.

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Michael Luhrsen has been surfing for 35 years and is one of the few who dares to go out.

"We haven't seen this for many, many years," Luhrsen said. "You just got to be ready. There's only a few guys that will go out."

The conditions remind this "big wave rider" of the unforgettable surf here in 1983 when the waves were "so big, you really couldn't paddle out. So what I did was take a boat out of the harbor, went around the arbor and got dropped off in the middle of the ocean. And that's what I strive for. It's adrenaline that you can't get on land," Luhrsen said.

For Luhrsen and other big wave riders, the adrenaline comes from a feeling of knowing that "it's life and death. … If you fall the wrong way or get held under the wrong way you will drown."

"When it comes to big waves, everyone is together because when you're out there, it's survival. And if you're in trouble, you'd want somebody to be there for you because there is no one out there to rescue you. Even the lifeguards won't go out."

The veteran surfer added a warning: "It is [suicidal] for some people that are not accustomed to the big waves or the currents out in the water."

Surf forecaster Chris Borg works for Surfline.com, which some surf buffs liken to a bible that tells them exactly where to go for good boarding.

For surfers, today's waves in California are "a real big deal," Borg said, "This kind of swell happens once every couple of years. Probably the last time one similar to this one came was two years ago, Winter solstice of 2005. When this kind of surf happens, people know about it, and they really want to take advantage of it. They want to be out there and on [the water], so they can say they surfed the big day of 2007."

Using live cameras that show waves all over the world, Borg said surf forecasters could predict the potential good waves 10 days in advance, depending on where the storm is that's generating them.

Borg believes that "surf science" may have predated all this technology, which started back on D-Day in World War II.

"People figured it out, I guess, a while back when they wanted to future out what was going to be happening on D Day when they were going to storm the beach," Borg said. "And so they wanted to know what the waves were doing then. And I think that started the emphasis for them to really figure out what they're doing as far as the waves go."

But some veteran surfers have a science of their own.

"The texture of the water and how the horizon is not perfectly lined up," Luhrsen said, smiling. "That means the swells are out there."

Surfer Jim Highfell skipped work, taking vacation days without pay for a shot at surfing on this potentially epic day.

"My boss knows," Highfell said. "My boss rides dirt bikes. He's all for it."

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