Surfing Spectators Struck by 50-Foot Wave

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Spectators are struck by a huge wave while watching a surfing competition at Half Moon Bay near San Francisco. At least 13 spectators were hurt.
CBS

The waves in this weekend's big surf competition at Half Moon Bay near San Francisco were so mammoth that the winner said he "took the worst beating of [his] life." But that was nothing compared to what happened to the spectators, as CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports.

The Mavericks Surf Contest is all about big waves, and this year competitors were riding some of the biggest ever - as high as 50 feet.

The powerful breakers are always dangerous for the surfers. But this year they suddenly became became dangerous for spectators as well, prompting public address announcements to "look out."

Hundreds watching on the narrow beach and a low sea wall were hit by the first of two huge rogue waves.

"There is absolute pandemonium right now," the announcer said.

Dozens were knocked off their feet as the rushing water scraped them over rocks and mud, sending paramedics rushing in.

The waves ruined scaffolding set up for the contest. Nikki Hall, a sound engineer for the Mavericks, came down with the wreckage.

"All of a sudden, all of the gear, the bike racks, everything" collapsed, she said. "And the water pulled me out. I was hitting rocks, stuff was hitting me."

At least 13 were injured, and three were taken to the hospital

"We've seen a broken leg, broken foot," the announcer said

An unusually high tide combined with the high surf was blamed for turning the beach into a scene of chaos and hazard.

While safety crews tried to clear spectators from the sand, half a mile out the surfers kept riding the waves.

The Mavericks contest is held on short notice only on years when the surf is high enough to make this one of the biggest of big wave competitions, with $150,000 in prize money on the line. The winner this year was Chris Bertish of South Africa.

But the 2010 mavericks will be remembered as much for what happened on the beach as what happened out on the waves.