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Surf's up -- way up -- in Southern California

By By Ben Brumfield and Akiko Fujita CNN
Published On: Aug 27 2014 01:30:48 AM CDT
Updated On: Aug 27 2014 09:03:06 PM CDT

Hurricane Marie generates massive waves in Newport Beach, California.

MALIBU, California (CNN) -

Smashing!

That pretty much sums up the waves coming to Southern California this week. And depending on whom you ask -- weather forecasters or surfers -- that word means either life-threatening peril or enlivening fun.

Far offshore, Hurricane Marie is driving some of the tallest breakers in years to crest at Los Angeles-area beaches.

The National Weather Service has issued beach hazard and high surf warnings from more than 100 miles north of L.A. down to the border of Mexico. The swells should last until Friday.

They have surfers reveling, according to Surfline, because after a pretty tame season, finally: Surf's up!

And how.

One surfer was sucked out in the current, but fortunately, famed big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton was nearby. He and another surfer helped the man out.

"We pushed the guy in," Hamilton said. "I mean, he was OK, because he was still strong enough to swim well, (but) it was one of those ones where it could have easily gone bad."

He said many of the surfers off Malibu Surfrider Beach were not used to waves as big as the ones this week.

"The ocean loves those guys. It squeezes and holds them down for a little while," Hamilton said.

But it's not a game, he said.

"You gotta have your respect for the ocean," Hamilton said.

One person died in the water Tuesday night, Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesman Scott Miller said, but it was unclear whether the death was directly related to the tumultuous surf. The surfer may have had a medical issue.

Lifeguards performed 115 rescues on Tuesday, Miller said.

The dangers

"There is the potential for damaging and life threatening surf," says the National Weather Service, which predicts waves breaking at heights of 10 to 15 feet. They could erode away a lot of beach, and wrack buildings and infrastructure close to the shore.

The pounding waves are paired with other dangers.

"Very strong rip currents and long shore currents will likely create extremely dangerous and life threatening conditions for anyone," the Weather Service says.

Rip currents are hard-to-spot flows that can drag unsuspecting swimmers out to sea. Long shore currents can shove them sideways down the shoreline.

There are other dangers, thanks to the number of surfers.

"But the real threat is the surfboards," said Bo Bridges, a surfer who cut short a vacation in Colorado to catch these "epic" waves.

"It's really dangerous when you're paddling out there and a big set wave comes out, and four or five guys are all dropping at the same time," he said.

Having an effect from afar

Hurricane Marie won't come anywhere near making landfall, CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri said. "It's way offshore."

The closest it will come to the state is 800 miles away on Thursday, he said. Parched Southern California won't even see any rain, which it is craving during an extended exceptional drought.

But even at that distance, Marie's counterclockwise swirl is still washing waves up the California coastline. Beaches facing the south and southeast will get hit with the heaviest surf.

Surfers' joy

It's great for surfers. It's where they want their waves. And how they like them.

And this is the second time in short order that they've gotten them. Tropical Storm Lowell, which is petering out, served them up nicely, too.

Surfers will be looking for "select focal points," as Surfline, a website for surfing enthusiasts, calls them, where its forecasters predict some waves cresting at well over 18 feet.

It's more than high enough to make for tall "pipes": the hollow air tubes that top-heavy waves form when they roll over on themselves.

Surfers love navigating them, and Surfline will be following the action via a slew of webcams.

Surf forecasters have broken down the height of the surf by time of day and particular beach.

"The Wedge," a point just off of Corona Del Mar, looks like the place to be.