PAIA - Towering surf pounded Maui's shoreline Monday, drawing daredevil tow-in surfers and thousands of people to watch them and the massive waves generated by hurricane-force winds.
Two low-pressure systems with winds in excess of 75 mph churned up the ocean 1,000 to 2,000 miles to the northwest, said Glenn James, senior weather analyst at the Pacific Disaster Center in Kihei. The high surf that hit Maui on Monday was the third in a series of storm-generated swells.
Maui County parks officials closed Hookipa and Baldwin beach parks Monday morning because the surf posed a hazard to beachgoers in combination with a high tide. The two beach parks are expected to remain closed today.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
A surfer escapes the whitewash as it closes out Monday at Jaws surf spot in Peahi, where wave faces reached an estimated 45 feet
County officials also advised motorists to avoid driving along Hana Highway from Paia to Haiku because of traffic congestion caused by people flocking to the shoreline to watch the high surf.
As of Monday afternoon, Maui County ocean safety officers had reported no ocean rescues, said Maui County spokeswoman Mahina Martin. She said there was a report of three personal watercraft lost in the big waves at Peahi, but no injuries were reported.
Ocean safety officers on personal watercraft braved the high surf to respond to a 911 call Monday morning reporting a swimmer in distress off Pauwela lighthouse, only to find there was no swimmer, just ocean debris, Martin said.
Police reported parked cars lining both the entrance to the big-wave surf spot known as Jaws at Peahi Point and Hana Highway near Hookipa Beach Park as people clogged the area to try to get a glimpse of the surf. Two car break-ins were reported at Hookipa and Peahi, according to police, who cautioned visitors and others leaving vehicles unattended in the locations.
Makawao resident Stephanie Boteilho, a registered nurse, spent part of her day off watching the tow-in surfers ride the monster waves at Jaws.
"It was beautiful. It was amazing," she said, and she estimated that at least a couple of hundred people lined the shoreline cliffs to watch the action.
She estimated the wave faces were about 30 feet high. She described the surf as "nice, nice waves . . . there were some barrels."
"It was just a blessing to see the professional surfers today," Boteilho said.
Although the National Weather Service reported that wave heights at Hookipa reached as high as 45 feet, James said he believed they were somewhat smaller, about 40 feet. The larger surf was at Jaws, where wave faces reached 40 to 45 feet.
The big surf was expected to peak Monday night and early this morning, James said.
"Then it will be gradually coming down in size until Wednesday," he said.
The next episode of high surf was forecast to arrive Saturday, but "it will be nothing like we're seeing in the first three days of this week," he said.
A north wind generated by a weak cold front coming across Maui on Monday morning left some showers in windward areas and brought north winds to the north shore, James said.
The on-shore breeze created less-than-ideal conditions for surfers, he said, making waves a little smaller and a littler choppier than surfers would like.
James said he expected winds would continue blowing out of the north today, then shifting to the northeast.
For the rest of this week, there should be "nice trade wind weather," although a little drier than what might be expected this time of year, he said.
Daytime sea-level temperatures should be in the low 80s and high 70s, with overnight temperatures in the middle to upper 60s, he said. Winds were expected to be light today and light to moderate for the rest of this week.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff Writer Lila Fujimoto contributed to this report.