Surfing video misrepresented as California storm footage

Social media posts claim footage shows surfers riding large waves in Newport Beach, California, as remnants of Hurricane Hilary hit the US state. This is false; the footage dates to May 2023, three months before the tropical storm brought record rainfall to parts of the coast.

"Crazy video footage of wipeouts from surfers in Newport Beach, California during Hurricane Hillary(sic)," says an August 20, 2023 Twitter post, which is currently being rebranded as "X."

"The Wedge - Biggest and Gnarliest day of 2023," reads the text that appears onscreen.

The Wedge is a popular surfing spot in Newport Beach, famously described as a place "where you catch waves you didn't even want" in the 1960s documentary Endless Summer.

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Screenshot of an X post taken August 21, 2023

Similar posts spread across platforms such as TikTok and Facebook, after Southern California was hit by the storm, which triggered landslides and life-threatening floods.

Nancy Ward, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said Hilary could be one of the worst storms to hit the state in more than a decade.

But the post purporting to show surfers riding large waves is unrelated to the storm, which registered at its peak as a Category 4 hurricane before crossing into the US on August 20.

AFP conducted a keyword search which revealed several versions of the video shared on social media months earlier. The clip was shared on Instagram on May 18, 2023, by the account "Surfline," crediting photographer James Ferrell with capturing the footage.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Surfline (@surfline)

"Shot in May, not Hurricane Hilary," Ferrell confirmed to AFP in an August 22, 2023 email.

The Newport Beach City Manager warned swimmers, surfers and bodyboarders that Hilary was a severe weather event and advised beachgoers to "check in with lifeguards and use extreme caution in the water," as some often take advantage of the large swells created by hurricanes.

AFP has debunked other misinformation about Hurricane Hilary here and here.

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