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Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Updated: November 1, 3:18 PM ET
Hurricane Sandy swells in Florida

By Greg Tindall

"I'm just so stoked for Florida to get this good of waves," said Kelly Slater.

While Hurricane Sandy was wreaking havoc along the Eastern seaboard, displacing thousands from their homes and leaving millions in the dark, its massive force created huge waves, especially in Florida where pro surfers like Kelly Slater took advantage of the rare event.

The Southern states usually get racked by Atlantic hurricanes, but Sandy stayed far enough offshore to leave them relatively untouched.

The first place to get the swell train was the Caribbean. Puerto Rico went saw huge waves for days on end. But the big story was Florida.

As soon as the winds switched to cross-off on Friday in Florida, South Beach Miami had as much swell as many in Florida had ever seen; with Chris Ward, the Lopezes, Peter Mendia, Baron Knowlton and every local pro, the list went on. The other Miami locals didn't seem too thrown by the overflow of talent in the only lineup with cooperative winds in the state on Friday. Although peaky and framed, the drop demanded a mad paddle and quick feet comfortable with heaving transitions.

As explained by Shea Lopez, "There is a chicken trench that runs north of where they dredged the South Beach inlet, which causes the [long-period] wave to outrun itself. Even though the wave is coming out of the north, because the southern portion stays in the chicken trench it travels in the deeper water longer, so it also travels faster than the part that should've broke first. That's what makes it wrap into itself and get nice and peaky and wedged."

Swells reached as far north as Lake Michigan in Chicago.

Without skis and a high level of big-wave skills, the rest of Florida on Saturday was all but inaccessible. Even Miami went from a heavy head-high to a sketchy double-overhead the next morning when the super session continued.

But the real story of Sandy's swell took place farther up I-95 in Palm Beach on Saturday, then continued through Monday with a staying power that the East Coast hardly ever sees. Spectators lined the beaches and boats packed the inlet to witness largely jet ski-assisted sessions. (Honorable mention goes to Tab Texter, who he-manned a six-hour paddle against sweeping longshore currents.)

Most descriptions of what took place over the three days gave up mid-sentence. In hopes that a non-East Coast, world-class talent might be able to fit the Sandy swell into perspective, Ward was asked how the waves he caught ranked in global terms. But Wardo just kind of shook his head and said, "That thing is its own thing. I don't know how else to put it."

Evan Geiselman sounded hopeful for Florida's future position as long as tragedy doesn't come with it: "I honestly think this might make Florida a place to chase big waves. If these conditions line up again, it wouldn't surprise me if we saw more of the big dogs showing up."

Not sure that conditions will line up like that again for awhile, and if they do, hopefully the weather can remain offshore without the devastating personal losses Sandy caused.

By chance, the biggest big dog in surfing happened to be at home in the Sunshine State for the Sandy swell. On the advice of Baron Knowlton, Kelly Slater and Matt Kechele went to lesser-known spots in southern Palm Beach County over the weekend.

According to Slater, "Yeah, we opted for some cleaner waves in bluer water. I'm just so stoked for Florida to get this good of waves."

Knowlton, now a full-time Palm Beach County lifeguard, said of Kelly's Saturday and Sunday sessions, "Watching Kelly gets these 15-second drainers from the lifeguard tower was simply agonizing [to not be out there with him and Kechele]."

However, after seeing some of the pictures from the two days before of Wardo, Mendia, Cory Lopez and Geiselman up in Palm Beach, Kelly made an appearance in typical Kelly style: at the last second, grabbing the last massive pulses. But the king wouldn't be bested by the prince on his home turf. The prince of Palm Beach, Mendia, took top honors on a double spitter that is sure to have the entire East Coast abuzz for years to come. "Sick, sick, sick ... " was all Mendia could muster to describe the wave that will likely get him on some magazine covers.

Farther up the coast, Vero Beach and Sebastian Inlet held their own after several of the past few hurricanes didn't produce much swell. Jacksonville had its moments, but the thicker portions of the Sandy swell continued to travel in the Gulf Stream down to Palm Beach, lighting up Reef Road through Tuesday.

Despite the destruction in New York and New Jersey, what made Sandy such an incredible event was the near-perfect track it took to follow the contour of the Eastern seaboard, remaining offshore, square within the swell window. A mid-/upper-level low coming across the Florida straits combined with a deep-layer long-wave trough that swept into the eastern United States provided the ocean conditions.

From the Outer Banks north, it was a different story. While there were reports of Will Skudin and his tow partner finding some behemoths off Long Island, and Virginia's Raven Lundy caught some waves in his home state, most surfers were rightfully busier protecting houses and family than riding waves.

But Sandy wasn't done. As utility crews rushed east to begin restoring normalcy to the storm-lashed coast, she went up to the Great Lakes, producing waves for surfers in places like Chicago.