High surf, tides pummel SLO County coastline — and it’s far from over

See high tides and surf in Cayucos and Morro Bay

See the waves at sunrise in Cayucos and Morro Bay as the King Tide season approaches.
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See the waves at sunrise in Cayucos and Morro Bay as the King Tide season approaches.

Waves have been battering the Central Coast all week — and it’s not slowing down, with king tides also on their way.

The surf has been rough enough that it knocked down part of a wall at the event tent next to the Veteran’s Hall in Cayucos.

The National Weather Service has issued a high surf advisory that will remain in effect until noon Friday. In the advisory, the agency said surf is expected to build through Thursday, with heights between 12 to 17 feet expected in the Central Coast region encompassing San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties that day. The highest surf will be on west- to northwest-facing beaches, the NWS said.

In SLO County specifically, PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey said the swell is expected to peak at 10 to 12 feet on Thursday, with an 8- to 10-foot swell expected Friday. The swell will decrease to 5 to 7 feet on Saturday.

High tide and surf damaged part of a wall at the Veteran’s Hall in Cayucos on Wednesday. Danna Dykstra Coy

King tides will start Thursday and continue through Christmas, Lindsey said. The tides are some of the highest of the year — but the fact that they’re occurring at the same time as the large swells is just a coincidence, Lindsey said.

“King tides usually happen during the months of December and January, when the Earth is closer to the Sun,” Lindsey said. “That’s when the tides are more severe, and that just happens to be our stormy period.”

But despite the rough-and-tumble nature of the ocean, local authorities said they haven’t seen too much damage.

“A lot of sand disappeared; these swells tend to pull about 3 to 5 feet of sand off,” said Eric Endersby, Morro Bay Harbor Director. “Fortunately, we’ve got good, healthy dunes on the beach protecting property.”

Matt Ashton, chief Harbor Patrol officer at the Port San Luis Harbor District, said officials had to close the westernmost parking area, right next to the boatyard, after they found a large boulder — about 2 feet by 3 feet — in the parking area Monday morning

“That parking area is significantly impacted by large swell and high tide when they happen at the same time,” Ashton said. “The swell can kick up rocks and debris and can damage cars parked near the water’s edge.”

Ashton said closing the parking area also keeps people farther back from the ocean, preventing injuries.

“That parking lot’s pretty well covered in rocks and debris,” Ashton said.

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Rocks and debris can be seen in the westernmost parking area of Port San Luis, next to the boatyard, on Monday. The Port San Luis Harbor District closed the parking area after finding a large boulder there on Monday morning. Courtesy of Matt Ashton

One boat broke loose from its mooring Monday as a result of the swell, and a skiff capsized Tuesday, which “could very likely have been the swell,” Ashton said.

No one was on board either craft, and they were fairly minor incidents, he said.

Ashton said his team was called out to a surf rescue Monday in the Shell Beach area, but the call was canceled before the crew got out of the harbor. His team has not needed to make rescues since the large swell began Sunday, though Ashton noted there were some people “having a hard time in the water” who were able to get out and get to safety on their own.

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A skiff capsized in Port San Luis on Tuesday, possibly as a result of the large swell in the area, according to Matt Ashton, chief Harbor Patrol officer at the Port San Luis Harbor District. Courtesy of Matt Ashton

Endersby said his team hasn’t made any rescues since the large swell began.

“Fortunately, everyone’s well aware (of the water conditions),” Endersby said. “The boaters know what’s going on and know not to go out when it’s like this.”

However, the negative side of the rough surf is “the public always wants to come out and see it and try to get a little too close,” Endersby said.

He said his team tries to talk to people who might be going out into the water.

“We do have the authority to stop someone from going out if we feel they’re unprepared,” he said. “Running around, just talking to people and educating them, nine times out of 10 goes toward preventing those rescues.”

Endersby also noted that people will try to go to the north jetty near Morro Rock and get too close to the ocean.

“Some people seem to want to get sprayed by the waves,” he said, adding that one wave might spray you, but another might grab you and pull you out to sea.

Both Endersby and Ashton emphasized that people should check the weather conditions, and no one should turn their back on the ocean or get too close when the surf is high.

“Enjoy it from a distance,” Endersby said. “You don’t need to get wet to enjoy the absolute awesome power of the ocean.”

High surf and big waves thrilled viewers at the Cayucos Pier on Monday, December 17, 2018. The forecast called for king tides throughout the week on the Central Coast.

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Gabby Ferreira is a breaking news and general assignment reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. A native of Houston, Texas, she was a reporter in Tucson, Arizona; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Palm Springs, California, before moving to San Luis Obispo County in 2016.