The giant waves of 1969: will the coming swell be even bigger?

Published: Dec. 5, 2009 at 4:41 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 5, 2009 at 4:54 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It was exactly 40 years ago, that a massive winter swell hit the north and west shores of the islands. Many surfers consider it to be the biggest swell in recorded history to ever hit Oahu's north shore.

The four-day swell peaked at midnight on December 2, 1969. State senator Fred Hemmings, who surfed with Eddie Aikau, remembers:

"We got to Makaha and obviously the north shore was closed out. Everything was breaking out on the horizon. You couldn't even paddle out to a location on the north shore, it was so wild" said Hemmings.

"Well, the '69 swell produced waves up to 50 feet. We think. I wasn't out. There were a few guys out" said Ricky Grigg.

Grigg is now an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii. He rode the swell - in southern California, where was studying at the Scripps Institute of oceanography.

"Yeah, I was going to Scripps at the time, and I caught a wave off Rumor Beach, La Jolla. Same swell, three days later. It was about 20 feet."

Grigg says he's 95 percent sure about Monday's forecast for mammoth waves. The weather systems that will produce the swell may be more powerful than the one that gave rise to the giant swell of '69.

"This storm is just as big. And it's moving slower, and it's a deeper pressure. And so if anything, its going to be as big or bigger."

That means the waves may cause destruction on Oahu's north shore - like they did 40 years ago.

"There was one and a half million dollars of damage in '69, whereas '74, '88, '98, had very little damage. Waves almost as big. But I think this is going to be comparable to '69, if not bigger, so expect some damage as well" said Grigg.

As Fred Hemmings remembers, 1969 was big.

"I think it was a lifetime swell for me. I haven't seen or been in the ocean like that since. And I was so scared, I thought I was gonna die. "

As a former big wave rider and an oceanographer, Ricky Grigg is urging everyone to be careful, and not to get too close to the water.

"Respect the ocean and be safe."