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Jacksonville Surfers Ignore Storm Warnings In Favor Of Major Swells

Experts at the present time seem confident Hurricane Joaquin won't make landfall along the First Coast, but that doesn't mean the area will be free from some gnarly weather.

The Coast Guard is warning swimmers about dangerous rip currents in hopes of clearing Florida’s beaches.

But that warning is more of a call to action for some beachgoers.

A chain-link fence separates the edge of Jacksonville’s Hanna Park beach head from Naval Station Mayport. Large wooden poles create a perforated border in the water where surfers dot the landscape of crashing waves.

The spot, nicknamed “the poles,” is a popular destination for local surfers and even more so when stormy weather moves in. Surfer Andrew M. said he’ll probably be surfing all weekend.

“We’re surfing cause Joaquin is creating waves out there and it’s probably the best we’ve had,” Andrew said. “It’s been a really flat summer. Zero hurricanes.”

He is usually monitoring the environment for the Florida Department of Agriculture, but on days like this, he trades in his clipboard for his shortboard.

Andrew said he’s aware of the Coast Guard warnings, in fact he said that’s exactly why he was there.

“Fine if you want to label us crazy,” he said. “I mean I think more people die driving a car, I know that, every year. So, yeah go drive around and walk around Jax Beach on Fourth of July. I think that’s more dangerous.”

Andrew said surfing is a way of life and after more than a decade of doing it, he has the experience to safely enjoy the swells. But he said he doesn't recommend a novice follow his lead. 

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.