Bill Heads North, Surfers Hang 10

Surfers loved the stormy conditions and huge swells

Sunday, Aug 23, 2009  |  Updated 5:01 PM CDT
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A surfer is seen riding a wave at Rockaway Beach in Queens. The beaches were closed to swimmers due to rough surf caused by Hurricane Bill, but surfers were allowed to stay in the water.

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Large waves, rough seas and strong rip currents spawned by Hurricane Bill kept most beachgoers and surfers out of the water in New York and New Jersey, putting a damper on one of the last weekends of the summer season.

Scores of beaches in New York City and Long Island were temporarily closed because of dangerous surf conditions.  But, many surfers braved the waves and huge swells. By Sunday afternoon the Nassau County Department of Health allowed 20 beaches to reopen.

Forecasters said the massive storm system, which was not expected to strike land on the East Coast, would also cause some beach erosion in many shore communities. And as an added insult, the storm helped slow down the movement of an unrelated cold front, which spawned numerous showers over most of the state during the day, with heavier rains predicted after dusk.

Numerous flood, flash flood and severe thunderstorm watches and warnings were issued by the National Weather Service.  Flooding was reported in many areas of the Garden State, leaving dozens of cars submerged and briefly trapping some people in their vehicles, but no injuries were reported.

More than an inch of rain had fallen in northern areas by Saturday night, and at least another inch was expected Sunday.

Rip currents and rough seas caused by the hurricane forced officials to prohibit swimming at most beaches, while lifeguards at other sites were advising people to stay out of the water.

The stormy conditions also dashed the hopes of dozens of surfers who had gathered along shore beaches, where 8- to 12-foot waves were reported early in the day and were expected to go even higher as the day progressed. Many initially planned to ride the waves for most of the day. But only a few actually ventured into the already rough seas, and most of them didn't stay long amid the big swells.

"They were exhausted,'' Atlantic City Beach Patrol Chief Rod Aluise told The Press of Atlantic City, noting that some surfers just stood on the beach "with their eyes popping out'' at the size of the waves.

"This is only for experienced surfers,'' Aluise said.

Conditions were a little better up the coast, as a few dozen surfers were able to ride the large waves in waters off Ocean County.

"Obviously if a hurricane was actually hitting it would be a different story, but when the storm is off the coast, and the weather's not bad, it creates swell for us,'' Joe Buono, a 20-year-old Brick resident, told The Star-Ledger of Newark.

The stormy conditions were expected to last at least until Sunday afternoon, with continued high humidity and temperatures reaching into the low 80s.

"It takes a while for the ocean to relax'' after strong storms, said Gary Conte, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "Until it does, riptides will make dangerous sport'' for surfers and swimmers.

The conditions nearly proved tragic for two men riding personal watercraft in the ocean near the Manasquan Inlet. They fell off just before noon and had to be rescued by three lifeguards in the water and four lifeguards pulling a rope, said Marilou Halvorsen, marketing director for Jenkinson's Boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach.

"They got caught in the waves, and they fell off,'' Halvorsen said, noting that neither man was injured. "They shouldn't have been out there.''

Despite the poor weather outlook on Saturday, boardwalk areas along the shore became more crowded as the day progressed. Officials said many people came out to watch the big waves and stormy seas, while others just wanted to spend time on the beach.

"It's pretty cool watching the surfers,'' said Debbie Lewis of Lafayette, Pa., who was vacationing in Ventnor with her husband, Scott. "Feels like we're watching 'Hawaii Five-O.''

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