There are a number of sources for wave information. One of the best is a U.S. Navy web site, commonly referred to as the “WAM” site.7 Plate 8 shows a WAM forecast for April 16, 2005, at 0 hours “Zulu” (Greenwich) time. The biggest waves—36 feet—can be seen at latitude 60 degrees south, off the coast of Antarctica, propagating north past Madagascar, in the opposite direction of the Agulhas Current, but no big waves are indicated in this region in the forecast.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as Canada, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and other entities operate a series of buoys in the Northwest Pacific and California coastal areas. These also can be accessed using the Internet. I did this for buoy 46006, which bears the name of “SE PAPA.” It is a fixed buoy located 600 nautical miles west of Eureka, California. I could see a clear pattern of the wind speed building to 29 knots on March 7, 2005, with gusts to 35 knots, a significant wave height of 16.4 feet, and a period of 14.3 seconds. On March 10, 2005, the buoy at Goleta Point, California, was showing the predominant swell arriving from the west (around 260 degrees), with a dominant period of 18 seconds and a significant wave height of 9 feet. Here again, the height was steadily building. Farther south, near La Jolla, California, a site predicted rising surf on March 9 and 10, possibly 10- to 14-foot wave faces. For March 10, the forecast concluded with a final note: Proceed with caution.
Farther north, at Monterey, California, near the famed Pebble Beach golf course, “proceed with caution” was the watchword for the day on March 9 at a little-known surf break called “Ghost Tree,” at Pescadero Point. Here, surfing contestants were competing in an event called the annual Billabong™ XXL Global Big Wave Awards. The idea of the contest is to search around the world for the biggest wave you can find, ride it without killing yourself, get someone to take a picture to prove you did it, and get paid $1,000 per foot of wave height if you survive and are a winner. Among the finalists, several had already ridden big waves at “Jaws,” a spot for big waves at Pe’ahi on the island of Maui, Hawaii. Previous winners have ridden waves at Mavericks, located near