by Corky Carroll
One of the most often asked questions that I get is “what is the biggest wave you ever rode?” Or, “What is the biggest surf you ever saw?” That one sometimes comes with, “in Orange County.” Just to get that first stuff out of the way; the biggest wave I ever rode was at Makaha, on the west side of Oahu, in December of 1969. At that time it would have been considered 30 ft. In recent years they have gotten better at estimating wave height, so it was probably closer to 40. In my mind that sucker was at least 300 ft. That was the biggest “rideable” surf I ever saw. Biggest surf was off the coast in Oregon, don’t even know how big it was. But it was huge.
OK, now to the story for today. The “Orange County” version. I have a couple of days that stand out as “the biggest,” or at least “one of the biggest.” One is the biggest “south swell (summer).” The other is the biggest “north or west swell (winter).
Let’s start with the summer version. There have been some epic south swells. Probably the most famous would be the epic day in 2014 that was produced by Hurricane Maria off the tip of Baja. They call it the “100 year” swell. But, sadly, I can’t comment on that one because I wasn’t around that day, was surfing on the other side of that storm in Southern Mexico.
The biggest south swell I ever personally saw, and rode, was on August 19, 1969. That was a banner year for surf. I had gotten up early in the morning and drove to “the Wedge,” in Balboa. I was with Mickey Munoz. We thought the swell might be so big that we could board surf that famous body-surfing spot. There was a low tide early in the morning. At that time nobody had board surfed it yet, we wanted to be the first. Bud Browne came to film us. But it wasn’t working right. So, we raced back down to Cotton’s Point. On todays wave height scale it was probably 20 ft. We called it 15 then. At the peak of the swell that morning only Mickey, Rolf Aurness and I made it out and rode it. Some great waves that day, long hard paddle out though. In the afternoon when the tide was higher a number of other guys make it out and it was one of those epic sessions that I am sure each of us that were there still remember vividly.
There have been a lot of huge winter days. The same day we got the monster surf at Makaha there was reported 15-foot waves at Rincon, near Santa Barbara. Once again, I wasn’t there personally. I was at Makaha. But word was that it was one of “those” days.
I think the biggest, or at least one of the biggest, but for sure the best, of the huge winter swells that I saw and rode would have been on Jan 23, 1993. My day started by a walk out on the pier at Huntington Beach to check it out. I ran into my good pal Zack Lindborg and we decided to head south together. The idea was to go to “Swami’s,” in Encinitas. But we stopped to check out the “Trestles” area just south of San Clemente. The spot called “Church” was pumping. The swell was very north, and that spot works best on that exact direction. It was big and very good. Again, I was thinking 15 ft sets that day. It was bigger. We paddled out and had a fantastic session.
But the real story of that day was what happened later when we got back to Huntington Beach. The conditions were fantastic, offshore winds and giant lines marching in. There is a reef off on the cliffs area called “Boxcars.” The rumor is that there is a submerged boxcar out there, but who knows? Huge perfect shaped peaks were breaking out there. Impossible to paddle out through the surf. So where raced to Long Beach to get Zack’s boat, throw our boards in it and motor back to surf it.
Problem was it was late in the day. By the time we got the boat into the ocean there wasn’t enough time to go all the way back to Huntington Beach. But, to our surprise there were huge peaks breaking just inside of the big oil platform off Seal Beach. So, we rode that. We later found out that famed Seal Beach lifeguard, Tim Dorsey, had paddled out there and rode it earlier in the day. Then we tried to surf some big peaks off the south side of the pier in the boat, but the lifeguards chased us away. What a great day that was.
There ya have it. These are my personal memories.