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Hawaii big wave surfing competition called off, but swells are coming

By Malia Mattoch McManus

HONOLULU (Reuters) - A Hawaii big wave surfing competition has been called off due to unfavorable weather, as state officials warned on Tuesday that swells projected to be the biggest in a decade to hit the island of Oahu could pose risks to beachgoers.

The potentially dangerous giant waves, forecast at 40- to 50-feet, are expected to hit the island of Kauai at midnight local time on Tuesday and arrive on Oahu shores at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

Organizers of a prestigious big wave surf contest that had been planned for Wednesday said they were postponing the event despite the once-in-a-decade wave heights, citing unfavorable wind conditions.

"The wave quality will be very poor because of the strong sideshore and onshore winds, which dramatically deteriorate conditions," said Jodi Wilmott, an organizer of the event, Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau invitational.

The event requires wave heights of at least 35 feet to 40 feet, she said.

"But it must be a clean and decent ride for the surfers, and when you get these kinds of winds it's horrible," she said.

An intense storm in the north Pacific Ocean with a large area of strong winds has generated the large ocean swell heading for Hawaii, said Chris Jacobson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

Mike Cantin, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Honolulu, characterized the waves as potentially life threatening.

"If this swell pans out we're expecting one wave every 20 seconds. The last time we had these types of conditions was 2004," Cantin said, adding that the winds would also increase risks for those on shore, by pushing water further over land.

"We're expecting water over roads and infrastructure," he said. "Those waves will have the potential to cause problems to homeowners. People need to stay away from these waves. They will be big enough to wash over cliffs."

Organizers of the big wave surfing event hope to hold it before the end of the winter season, which is when the state sees its largest waves of the year.

The event is named after a Native Hawaiian big wave surfer who disappeared while at sea en route to Tahiti on a Polynesian voyaging canoe in 1978. The contest only occurs about every four years on average due to its wave size and quality requirements.

"But that's what makes it so special when it does" take place, said Wilmott, who expects the event's defending champion, Greg Long of California, and 11-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater from Florida to compete this year.

"We're just over the four-year mark from the last one, and it's been a very active winter for big waves. It looks like that pattern is going to persist for the next month and we're really optimistic," she said.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Ken Wills)

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