capitola village high surf
A man clings upside-down to a railing in Capitola Thursday morning to avoid one of numerous large waves that crashed through the village. Photo: Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

Massive surf pummeled coastal regions of Santa Cruz County, leading to evacuations, road closures and damage Thursday. 

High waves surged into Capitola Village, knocking over signs and benches, tearing open business fronts and cluttering the Esplanade with mountains of driftwood, sand and debris.

Mary Ann Orr, who owns the popular restaurant Margaritaville on the Capitola Esplanade, stood by Thursday morning with a crowd as waves pummeled the shop fronts where Soquel Creek meets the sea.

“It was worse last year in the floods,” she said. “But this is really bad. This looks like the second worst. We’ll definitely be closed for several days to clean up. The waves crashed through a door at my restaurant. We’re trying to get some lumber in here now to protect what we can.”

Swarms of people clung to the edge of the Stockton Bridge in Capitola to watch the wave surges bash into the Esplanade businesses and the historic Venetian homes across Soquel Creek.

capitola village high surf
A crew from Public Works hauls away a section of decking that was ripped away by large waves in Capitola. Photo: Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian
capitola village flooding
A worker wades through flood waters in Capitola Village. Photo: Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

Public Works workers were on hand with a loader and crews dragging hunks of decking and railing out of the surf and trying to keep large driftwood hunks from smashing into store fronts. 

By 10:30am Capitola Police used bullhorns to declare a mandatory evacuation of the Esplanade area. Occasional waves crashed into the seawall and surged into the village. Giant waves roared just offshore and could be seen bashing against the bottom of Capitola Wharf that still shows signs of major damage from last year’s storms.

Meanwhile, at Rio Del Mar State Beach, persistent heavy surf hauled tons of sand, seaweed and driftwood far into the Esplanade area and along numerous streets. The California Highway Patrol joined forces with Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies in closing that area off to traffic and clearing swarms of onlookers from harm’s way.

“We’ve closed off areas of Rio Del Mar, Seacliff and East Cliff Drive,” said Ashley Keehn of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. “Earlier, deputies had to rescue a woman trapped in her car along Beach Drive here in Rio Del Mar.”

Jennifer Welling, a resident of Rio Del Mar, said she came to the Esplanade to walk her dog, Halle, and was stunned by what she saw.

“It’s a mess but we definitely had plenty of warning this time,” she said. “Not like last year at this time. I’ve been out here since 7:30 this morning and it just keeps coming. The waves are very powerful.”

While deputies kept traffic out of the Esplanade area, the high tide kept shoving waves of sea debris across the parking area, up against business fronts and into surrounding streets.

rio del mar state beach high surf
These people check out the collection of debris high seas hauled into Rio Del Mar State Beach Thursday. Photo: Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian
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Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. More recently Good Times & Press Banner. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.


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