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As golfers ran for shelter from the storms of '98, surfers on the West Coast charged some of the biggest waves everand wondered why anybody would try to play golf in such weather.
"Are they crazy? This is the rainiest time of year," said Sean Collins on the eve of the Buick Invitational. "In fact it's the only rainy time on the West Coast."
Collins, 45, is the surf world's No. 1 weather dude. He runs Surfline/Wavetrak, a Huntington Beach, Calif., firm that provides forecasts for surfing events and wave carvers worldwide. Collins even plays travel agent for daredevils like Laird Hamilton and Brock Little, the Tiger and Shark of the wet set. He predicts where and when storm-driven surf will reach land; then the big-wave riders hop on planes and outrace the waves to their destination.
Two weeks ago there were howls of "Awesome!" at Maverick's, a cove not far from Pebble Beach, when waves the size of six-story buildings roared ashore. Meanwhile PGA Tour officials bemoaned their bad luck when rain washed out the Pebble Beach AT&T and shortened the Buick.
Surfcaster Collins is surprised anyone was surprised. "I keep looking at my monitor and seeing back-to-back swirls lined up all the way to Siberia," he says, hunched over machinery that can measure the height of any wave on the planet within four centimeters. "I mean, these storms are no secret. Beach cities have been building berms and reinforcing piers for weeks."
According to Collins, this year's Wet Coast weather is nothing but "our usual stormy February, with El Niño throwing gas on the fire." He estimates that a West Coast swing anytime after mid-March might have a 5% chance of rainout; this month it's closer to 30%. If the Tour must visit California in February, he says, play should never be suspended when the sun is out, as it was at Pebble while organizers decided what to do next.
Now for even more radical advice: "Those pro golfers might want to stow their clubs and pick up surfboards for a few weeks, because this time of year the West Coast weather is rockin'."
Issue date: February 16, 1998
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