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Huge Calif. waves draw big crowds, and danger

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Authorities warned about dangerously high waves pounding the central California coast that have left a swimmer missing and likely caused a marijuana smuggling boat to crash onto a beach.

But the waves were drawing plenty of people to beaches to ooh and ahh - and many, to surf, reports CBS News Correspondent Ben Tracy, as Southern California's surfing capital hit the jackpot, just in time for the holiday weekend.

Still, lifeguards conducted dozens of rescues, officials said. High surf also caused some damage to the Ocean Beach and San Clemente piers.

Many waves of up to 10-feet high, some as high as 20 feet, pounded beaches from San Luis Obispo to San Diego.

The powerful surf probably forced a smuggling boat to crash on a Southern California beach where more than 500 pounds of marijuana washed ashore, authorities said Thursday.

California State Parks rangers found the abandoned boat split in half on rocks near Point Mugu northwest of Malibu, said Lindsey Templeton, a superintendent for the park system said.

Waves reaching 6 to 9 feet and "probably a lot of misjudgment by the cartel operating the boat" led to the crash, Templeton said.

"Obviously they didn't check the surf, or they risked it anyway," he said.

Authorities warned swimmers and surfers to be careful because of high waves and strong rip currents that hit Central and Southern California through the day.

The Coast Guard suspended its search for a missing body-boarder after a fruitless overnight hunt that covered 78 square miles of ocean. Jowayne Binford, 24, of Long Beach, was with three friends when he disappeared Wednesday evening about 200 yards off the Surfside area of Huntington Beach, Coast Guard spokesman Trent Kelly said.

Rip currents are strong channels of water flowing out to sea that quickly exhaust swimmers who struggle against them. Authorities recommend that swimmers caught swim parallel to the shoreline until they are out of the current.

"We could tell yesterday the waves were getting a lot bigger and the current was getting strong. The yellow (warning) flags were waving," said Rhonda Selmanson, who has lived in a seaside home at Sunset Beach for three years.

To the delight of surfers, occasional 20-foot waves slammed into the Wedge, a popular body-surfing spot at Newport Beach, in Orange County.

Southern California is usually a surfer's dream, noted correspondent Tracy, who was at Newport Beach.

"For those who judge their day by the size of the swell," he said, "this is as good as it gets."

Surfer Kelly Cochran admitted, "I guess we're thrill seekers. You can call us crazy."

While hundreds lined the beach and cheered, only the most intrepid braved the waves, which were the remnants of storms off the coast of Antarctica and New Zealand. At one point, out in the ocean, they were up to 50 feet high. It's taken them up to two weeks to get to California, during which they lost a little height.

At 20 feet, the swells were bigger than most at Newport Beach can remember.

Dane Buscemi, a surf photographer, said, "I like to come out here, 'cause I like to get thrashed around, I like to get thrown over the falls. I love it!"

But the high surf is also brought the dangerous riptides, and a warning from lifeguard Capt. Boyd Mickley, who said, "We consider this , under these conditions, an expert-only beach, so anybody who's entering the water is a potential risk for injury."

Lifeguards are expecting thousands to hit the beach this Labor Day weekend, Tracy says, and they're hoping the crowds will stay on the sand -- and let the professionals take the plunge.

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