On Aug. 25, 2014, as Marie, the first Cat 5 hurricane since Celia in 2010, thundered northwest past the tip of Baja, local residents breathed a sigh of relief in spite of warnings of large waves predicted to impact Baja California and the southern California coast.
Offshore along the approximately 1,000 miles of coastline from Baja to Southern California, the growing swells from the 160-mph velocity winds silently rolled in, creating enormous surf the likes of which hadn't been seen since the early 80s in California.
Top surfers from faraway places hurried to the Southern California, joining locals as the waves grew to epic heights, outnumbered only by the hordes of spectators who perched on cliffs and sandy berms. The lyrics from the Beach Boys "Surfin' Safari" echoed over the roar of the growing surf … "At Huntington and Malibu, they're shooting the pier, at Rincon they're walking the nose."
The local and national media was filled with the surfing exploits, the gathering of the spectators and of course the damage and destruction to piers and property in Southern California, overshadowing what was happening down the west coast and tip of Baja.
For the Baja surfers it was equally exciting and many locals journeyed long distances eager to capitalize on favored surfing spots dotting the west coast of Baja.
However, for the sportfishing contingency, conditions left behind by Marie were entirely different.
"Worse week of fishing we ever had," lamented Jonathan Roldan of Tailhunters International, speaking of the fishing at both La Paz and Las Arenas. Thinking that the "no fish thing" was a local problem, I checked with Mark Rayor, JenWren Sportfishing at Los Barriles. "It's like a desert out there," he confirmed.
It wasn’t until I reached San Jose that the mood began to change— well sort of. Barely making it back to port before Hurricane Marie closed it was the 335-pound yellowfin tuna landed by Miguel Angel Castro after a two-hour fight involving three fishermen, on 80-pound-test line according to Eric Brictson, Gordo Banks Pangas.
Around the corner and up to Magdalena Bay, Bob Hoyt confirmed the surf was huge in Santa Maria Bay. "Our guests at the cabins on the island were surfing in the entrance to the Estero," he observed. Adding more good news, "There are lots of striped marlin, dorado and tuna out on the banks."
At La Bocana and Blanca Portella, Les Heil recalled that there were sizeable waves, but nothing larger than past storms and no significant damage. "It's so very odd that Bahía Asunción was slammed," she added. "Even the fishing seemed back on track by September 1st, producing tuna and wahoo."
However, just 40 miles farther up the coast along the south-facing beaches at Bahía Asunción, surf from Marie struck, battering the shore with the highest pounding surf that anyone in the community could remember in twenty years.
Shari Bondy, La Bufadora Inn, posted: "The beaches of our town face exactly south and were hard hit by the 20 plus-foot waves that destroyed the Pismo clam population here. Things are finally calming down now after the biggest swell I've ever seen here."
"The beaches are changing each day with shells, black sand and old bones surfacing and I mourn the death of thousands of Pismo clams. The fishing cooperative collected around 2,000 clams to take to the lab in hopes of saving some in tanks of water, but it will be years before Pismo's population recovers," she added.
Hurricane Marie was the 13th hurricane in the eastern Pacific. Will there be more eastern Pacific hurricanes? Undoubtedly! The conditions that spawned Marie still exist. The incubator south of Mexico normally produces storms in every month of the hurricane season (May 15 to Nov. 30).
As September begins, soon-to-be Hurricane Norbert is on its way up the line. No surprises there, according NOAA. September has had the largest total of hurricanes historically, 53 thus far compared to a total of 51 for the other six months.
Hurricane Marie will be memorable in many different ways. Surfers will remember with exultation the surf of a lifetime, anglers will be disappointed that the bite shut-off, businesses and homeowners will remember with fear an ocean they sought to be near, and finally a small Baja coastal community will be mourning the loss of an important resource that may take decades to recover, reminding us all of us of the old adage, "One man's blessing, another's curse."
THE BEAHCHES ARE changing each day with shells, black sand and old bones surfacing and I mourn the death of thousands of Pismo clams.