Bad weather means great waves

Austin Peer plopped his light blue surfboard on the sand Friday, just beyond the reach of the foaming waves, and silently plotted his return to the water.

Just a week earlier, the 18-year-old the college student and construction worker had suffered a nasty blow to the head while surfing the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay at Tybee Island. Lifeguards rushed to his aid when he came ashore, but he insisted he was OK.

Now, before heading to work for the day, Peer was gingerly preparing to surf the choppy waters churned up by Tropical Storm Hanna, which brought wind gusts of 30 mph to the barrier island on the Georgia coast.

“You gotta surf,” he said, shrugging off questions about last week's misadventure. “It's the thrill of it.”

At Atlantic Beach, Danny Keylor, 23, said he surfed four hours Friday morning.

“It's real steep, about 6 or 7 feet. It's real powerful, really strong rip currents,” said the landscaper from Morehead City. “We've had some pretty good days this week, but this is the best session I've been in so far.”

Jeff Caithness, 25, a restaurant cook in Morehead City, said the surf got more uniform as the morning went on.

“It's really good now,” he said about noon. “It was choppy this morning.”

Caithness said he was leaving the beach “only because I have to be at work.”

Hanna was expected to make landfall on the South Carolina coast about 2 a.m. today before marching quickly up the Atlantic seaboard and pushing into New England by early Sunday. Tropical storm watches or warnings ran from Georgia to areas just south of New York City.

The brunt of the storm appeared likely to skirt Savannah, but its outer bands brought blustery winds and ominous gray clouds to the Georgia coast. They also spawned 5 foot waves, drawing an adventurous few to the ordinarily tame Georgia beaches.

“The waves are getting dramatically bigger,” said Chuck Conn, a burly 49-year-old preparing to hit the waves at Tybee as his wide smile broadened. “And there are never any waves around here.”

Signs posted around the beach warned of rip tides, and lifeguards were out in force monitoring the handful of surfers. But even town elders understood the call of the ocean.

“Hopefully, the only impact we'll get from this is high surf and wind current,” said Tybee Mayor Jason Buelterman, an avid surfer who chuckled when asked if he would hit the waves. “We're trying to encourage people to stay out of the water, so that wouldn't be a good example.”