Only a day after Hurricane Irma roared through the First Coast, crowds of residents headed to the beach.
At 16th Avenue South in Jacksonville Beach, hoards of surfers scrambled to paddle into the water as the surf was over head high with offshore winds, creating large waves.
The dunes along the beaches were remarkably well conditioned even after a major storm.
“It’s pretty much moved on and done. We do have to move on,” said Jerry Benton, who was preparing to paddle into the waves Tuesday morning.
Benton came from the Bartram area of St. Johns County to Jacksonville Beach to ride what even he acknowledged was sizable surf.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ocean buoy about 10 miles off the coast of St. Augustine registered wave heights of nearly 7 feet throughout Tuesday morning, though the size dropped off to about 4 feet through the day.
Benton said despite the churned up waters due to Irma, most experienced surfers are in their element.
SLIDESHOWS: IRMA'S AFTERMATH
“You do have to be careful. There is a lot of debris in the water,” Benton said. “But I think it’s great to get out after the storm. After any storm, people want to be out.”
The American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps in Jacksonville Beach cruised up and down the dune line Tuesday in trucks, warning beach-goers to be wary of the conditions left in Irma’s wake. Over a public address speaker, lifeguards warned of treacherous rip currents and large surf, and suggested only experienced surfers should enter the waters.
Still, Tracy Lockman traveled from her Orange Park home to the 16th Avenue South beach access where she took her three children to hunt for sea shells and shark teeth. She said post-storm is best time for beachcombing.
“You get the best shells and the shark teeth come,” Lockman said.
She added while it’s great to get out of the house and to the beach, high surf made her extra watchful as her children played on the shore. “I keep a really close eye on them. I don’t let them go out (in the water) past their calves,” Lockman said.
Paul Morrisseau said he was surprised at the good condition of the beaches just after the storm.
“There was much more erosion” after Hurricane Matthew, he said.
During that hurricane 11 months ago, the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier had the end of the structure sheered off as Matthew passed through. The pier was never fully repaired afterward.
Hurricane Irma battered the pier again this week, knocking several wooden planks out from in between the concrete skeleton of the structure. It was intentionally designed to function that way during heavy seas.
The pier was closed Tuesday and there was no indication when repairs might take place or when it will open again.
Most public beach access points on either side of the pier were open and recent beach renourishment to dunes after Matthew appeared to hold up during Irma.
Along the Intracoastal Waterway east and west, most floodwaters that hit dozens of homes hard Monday had receded Tuesday.
Many residents who live near the Intracoastal Waterway, who fled ahead of the storm, started to return home Tuesday.
Drew Dixon: (904) 359-4098