Surfers at the Bells Beach tournament are battling a challenging swell as forecasters warn a storm surge on Friday afternoon could bring waves of up to 15 metres in open waters off the Victorian coast.
Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) senior forecaster Chris Godfred said a strong cold front was expected to move across Bass Strait to create large waves.
"We could see combined seas and swell rising to 8 to 9 metres out in the open water in western Bass Strait, and in the range of 5 to 7m in central Bass Strait, which is between Cape Otway and Wilsons Promontory," he said.
"You might get the odd wave out in the open water that could be well above 10m or even getting pretty close to 14 or 15m during the afternoon and in the evening."
Big swells at Bells Beach
Mr Godfred said the waves would not be that big close to shore, but would still provide some spectacular conditions at Bells Beach for the World Surf League event.
"You would be seeing waves or 3 or 4m breaking pretty close to shore and we're sort of looking at more exposed coastline in western Victoria, which is more going to be facing towards the west or south-west, so there'd be plenty of those sorts of areas west of Cape Otway," he said.
"If you're sort of getting closer to the surf coast, Torquay and Bells Beach, it will be a little bit more sheltered from the worst of the swell, but having said that we are still expecting significant wave heights in the open water of about 5 to 7m and that still translates to very heavy surf on the shore in those parts."
Some the world's biggest names have brought larger boards to Bells Beach for the competition today to battle a forecast described by seven-time surfing world champion Stephanie Gilmore as "terrifying".
Gilmore was eliminated from the competition in the quarter-finals this morning, while 17-year-old American Caroline Marks tamed the big waves to make it through.
There is speculation among riders that the surf could be the biggest since the now-legendary massive waves at Bells Beach in 1981.
Eleven-time surfing world champion Kelly Slater jokingly likened the conditions to a massive storm in the cult 1991 surfing movie Point Break.
"It could be a 20-year swell from Point Break. It's always when you put that expectation that it doesn't happen, but I think it's too big for Bells, we're going to be trying to catch the inside waves," he said.
There is a gale wind warning in place for the West Coast, Central Coast and Gippsland Coast, while the BOM said the big waves will be accompanied by higher tides than usual.
Life Saving Victoria acting operations manager Kane Treloar urged the public to keep away from the ocean today.
"While it might be good news for the professional surfers competing at Bells Beach, anyone else should re-consider heading out on the water today and Saturday," he said.
"Watch from a safe distance instead.
"People need to beware of unstable edges and to re-think beach plans as tides may fill beaches up to the primary dunes — even wading in the water or walking close to the edge of the water can place people in danger when high tides are present."
Andrew McKinnon, Parks Victoria's chief ranger for the Shipwreck Coast and Hinterland, said it was likely beaches would be closed in the area.
"Areas like the Shipwreck Coast get their name for a very, very good reason, especially in weather like this," he said.
"We're therefore likely to close some beaches and to place signage in others as warning as the high tide hits Port Campbell around 3:30pm."ABC