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Several Hawaiian islands will see waves of up to 50 feet

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 3:34 AM EST, Thu January 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The National Weather Service forecasts 40-to-50 foot waves for Oahu
  • But a big wave surf contest has been postponed because of bad wind conditions
  • "The size is there, but the quality is not," an event organizer says
  • The organizers will keep waiting until the end of February for "one day of quality surf"

(CNN) -- The biggest waves in a decade are forecast to be rolling toward Hawaii this week, but many surfers are set to miss out on the chance to ride them.

The National Weather Service in Hawaii said it expects waves 40-to-50-feet high to hit the north shore of Oahu on Wednesday, driven by "a giant northwest swell."

Hawaii hasn't experienced waves that large since 2004, said Sam Houston, a forecaster with the weather service.

A high-surf warning is in effect for much of the state until Friday morning and forecasters say "giant breaking surf," dangerous currents and significant "coastal inundation" are possible.

Surfer Damien Hobgood rides a huge wave during the Billabong Pope Masters at Pipeline, Oahu, in 2012. Located on the island where modern surfing was developed, Pipeline is one of the heaviest waves in the world, towering 20 feet over a shallow base of razor-blade table reef. The National Weather Service in Hawaii said it expects waves 40-to-50-feet high to hit the north shore of Oahu on Wednesday, January 22. Surfer Damien Hobgood rides a huge wave during the Billabong Pope Masters at Pipeline, Oahu, in 2012. Located on the island where modern surfing was developed, Pipeline is one of the heaviest waves in the world, towering 20 feet over a shallow base of razor-blade table reef. The National Weather Service in Hawaii said it expects waves 40-to-50-feet high to hit the north shore of Oahu on Wednesday, January 22.
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At first glance, the tall waves would appear to offer a golden opportunity for participants in a big wave surf contest that was scheduled to take place Wednesday on Oahu.

But the organizers have postponed the event. They say that although the waves are expected to be pleasingly large, the wind conditions are no good.

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"We have taken all the time we can to assess the developments of the next big swell and it does not look favorable for us," said event organizer Glen Moncata. "The size is there, but the quality is not, due to strong, adverse winds."

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Organizers of the big wave event said they will keep waiting until the end of February for "just one day of quality surf" when wave face heights reach around 40 feet.

The contest is held in honor of Eddie Aikau, a famous Oahu lifeguard who was regarded as one of the best big wave surfers of the 1960s and '70s. Aikau disappeared in 1978 during a canoe expedition from Hawaii to Tahiti.

The event -- the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau big wave invitational -- isn't an annual occurrence. It has taken place eight times, starting in 1984. It was last held in December 2009 when Greg Long of California claimed victory.

The invitees to this year's event include Long, Aiku's younger brother Clyde, 11-time world champion Kelly Slater and Carlos Burle, who gained global renown for surfing an enormous wave in Portugal last year.

Not that all experienced big-wave surfers will be on the sidelines.

Waves of up to 50 feet are sure to bring in towed-in surfers and spectators to Jaws, or Peahi, on Maui.

"It is a pretty awesome sight to see," said Anna Foust, emergency management officer on the island.

She said such waves from the northwest are generally not a threat to Maui's infrastructure. Still, she advised residents to be cautious of the high surf and stay well back.

Officials will be monitoring and will close beach parks, if necessary, she told CNN on Tuesday afternoon.

Why such huge waves?

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A large storm with hurricane-force winds is spinning far north of the islands, but is sending a giant swell toward the warning areas, according to CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller.

The big waves headed for Hawaii are also prompting concern among beachfront home owners whose houses risk being flooded or are on cliffs vulnerable to erosion.

The American Red Cross says it has volunteers and supplies on standby for any homes that are affected, CNN affiliate KHNL/KGMB reported.

The high-surf warning area includes the north shore of Maui, the west shore of the Big Island, and the north and west shores of Oahu, Kauai and Molokai. While some shores may see waves of 40 to 50 feet, others may experience smaller waves of 20 to 30 feet.

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CNN's Phil Gast and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.

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