HONOLULU -- Every winter, giant rolling walls of ocean head toward the north shores of Hawaii. And, every winter, surfers from all over the world attempt to ride them.
But when Kelly Slater, the most legendary surfer of our time, can't even make it past the shore break and is forced back to the safety of the beach with his tail between his legs, you know it's an extraordinary show of Mother Nature's fury.
On Wednesday morning, one of the largest swells in years brought 30- to 45-foot waves to the islands' famed surf breaks. What followed was 12 hours of raw talent and pure carnage at Oahu's Waimea Bay and Maui's Peahi (aka Jaws).
Slater may not have gotten in on any of Wednesday's action, but he still ended the day as a hero.
The 43-year-old champion surfer rescued Australian tourist Sarah White and her baby after a rogue wave swept them all the way to the street, leaving White with scrapes, bruises and a mouthful of sand.
"So thankful the surf gods denied @kellyslater today cos [sic] for whatever reason he was right there to save my wife and kid who were swept across the road by a freak wave today," wrote her husband, Chris White, on Instagram.
Slater said he was just at the right place at the right time.
"For some random reason I stopped there when I normally don't," Slater commented on White's post. "Lifeguards were on it either way and had it handled."
Surfers who did make it past Waimea Bay's powerful shore break had to paddle with enough muscle to keep up with the towering, quick-moving waves and, if they were lucky, glide down their nearly vertical faces.
Kerry Atwood, a lifeguard who oversees Waimea Bay, said the area is "one of the most famous big wave surfing spots in the world."
"Being in the middle of the winter on the north shore, people just can't resist the temptation" to surf it, he told Hawaii News Now.
By Wednesday evening, the waves at Waimea Bay had grown so large that lifeguards had to use a jet ski to help at least 25 surfers who couldn't paddle back to the beach by themselves, Hawaii News Now reported.
Below, see just how powerful a winter on Hawaii's north shore can be.
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