Waves up to 40 feet high crashed onto the Hawaiian coast yesterday, leaving sand and debris on roadways and prompting officials to close beaches.

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HALEIWA, Hawaii — Waves up to 40 feet high crashed onto the Hawaiian coast yesterday, leaving sand and debris on roadways and prompting officials to close beaches.

Amid the debris, world-class surfers gathered at Oahu’s Waimea Bay for a competition that occurs only when such enormous waves sweep the island’s coast. It has happened only six times in the past 19 years.

“I don’t think I’ve seen it like this,” said Kelly Slater, a former world champion and one of only 24 elite surfers invited to compete.

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Wave heights were reported to peak yesterday morning between 30 and 40 feet at Waimea Bay. Forecasters earlier had predicted up to 50-foot faces.

“When it’s this big, it’s hard to tell for sure exactly how big the waves are because they tend to break out off shore on outer reefs,” said Tom Birchard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The waves began coming ashore before dawn, crossing roads and leaving sand and debris. The resulting mess prompted officials to close part of a highway in this town on the north shore of Oahu.

The National Weather Service warned of high surf on north-facing shores of all Hawaiian islands except Lanai until last night.

Oahu Civil Defense advised residents to avoid the beaches and stay out of the water, but crowds began gathering before dawn for the surfing competition.