SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco took the unusual step Friday of warning the public not to set foot on Ocean Beach as huge waves roll in Sunday and Monday.
They are 40-50 foot waves, usually associated with the Maverick's surf competition and in fact, that contest may occur in the coming week near Half Moon Bay.
But to have outsize waves crashing on a popular and accessible beach is a different matter. "Don't go see it, we are telling you to do something else this weekend," said Victor Lim, of San Francisco's Department of Emergency Management. "We are telling people to completely stay off Ocean Beach and to remain on the sidewalk because if you are anywhere on the sand you could be swept into the Pacific Ocean."
Ocean Beach is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, so any move to close it would come from that agency.
If people are on the beach when mammoth waves hit, it would fall on San Francisco Fire crews to save them.
"These waves are big enough they will reach, if not go over, the sea wall," warned SFFD Lt. Jonathan Baxter.
Year-round, Ocean Beach is treacherous due to rip currents, sneaker waves and frigid temperatures.
An adult wading ankle-deep can be pulled out to sea under normal conditions, so the prospect of monster waves is alarming.
"It's certainly possible it could get to the wall, but I've never seen it come up that high," observed Joseph Carrillo, who has walked Ocean Beach almost every day for 20 years.
"I will definitely heed the warning," he added, "because better to be safe than sorry, and no real reason to take those kind of chances."
The restaurants in the Cliff House, at the north end of the beach, might be the safest spot to watch the walls of water, through big windows.
"A lot of people come here to watch the surfers and the waves," said hostess Riley Craven, "so that's pretty crazy, fifty foot waves is actually insane."
The National Weather Service has issued advisories for a big swell up and down the coast, but Ocean Beach is singled out because it attracts so many visitors, even on stormy days.
The fire department is asking surfers - even those adept on big waves- to also stay away to avoid giving the impression conditions are safe.
"Be a role model, lead by example, and assist us by not entering the water," implored Lt. Baxter.
Last week, a SFFD surf rescue crew tried in vain to revive an Oakland man who drowned surfing at Ocean Beach.
This weekend, if someone else gets into distress, it is possible no one will be able to respond immediately, and they will have to wait for a helicopter and crew, a half-hour away.
"Our rescue swimmers may not be able to enter the water if it is so severe," cautioned Lt. Baxter, "and 30 to 45 minutes into a rescue, it almost always results in a body recovery, a fatality."
In front of the Cliff house, surfer Skylar Henderson said he has no intention of getting in the water, but will come to watch the spectacle.
"I definitely want to be there and look at the giant waves, from the sand as close as I can get."