OCEAN CITY - He wasn't there yet - but somewhere out there, Bill was approaching.

"Those are just typical waves," said the 7th Street Surf Shop's Brian Williams. "In a few hours, when the tide turns around - then we'll get the waves. ... Tonight should be fun."

The first Atlantic hurricane of the 2009 season won't strike land anywhere near New Jersey, but even its presence far offshore should create havoc along the region's beaches - from strong rip currents to possible erosion.

In Atlantic City, the beach patrol was moving its equipment back behind the dune line in anticipation of minor tidal flooding - Atlantic City Beach Patrol Chief Rod Aluise said there would be two high tides before lifeguards return to work today - while off Sea Isle City, the dredge that has been pumping sand onto Cape May County beaches has been moved from Corsons Inlet to a safe harbor in Cape May to ride out the storm.

But for surfers such as those involved in the 7th Street Surf Shop's surf classes, the coming storm is a potential godsend of great waves and perfect surf.

"It's what we live for," lead instructor Matthew Ellison said. "For experts only, though. It's not recommended for amateurs or beginners."

As of 8 p.m. Friday, Hurricane Bill was about 200 miles southwest of Bermuda and moving to the north-northwest at about 20 mph., according to Larry Nierenberg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly. It was a Category 2 storm, with wind speeds of 105 mph, but could pick up strength overnight.

The hurricane's closest brush with the New Jersey shore will take place sometime today, Nierenberg said. Even though it is expected to pass 400 miles from the coast, it is expected to kick up the surf and create a high risk of rip currents.

Bill might brush the coast of Nova Scotia in Canada, and could make landfall there if it turns to the west, Nierenberg said.

Swells are expected to grow from about 5 to 8 feet this morning to as much as 11 feet tonight. Sunday could bring even more powerful waves, with the National Weather Service predicting swells as high as 12 feet.

Aluise said swimmers would be allowed to get knee-deep - but not a step more, citing what he matter-of-factly called the "threat to life" posed by rip currents - while the Coast Guard simply advises swimmers steer clear of the beaches entirely.

But Ellison expects he and his fellow experts will venture out into the Ocean City waves at some point - before it becomes too much for even them.

"We're just starting to see some of the waves now," instructor Tina Spadafora, of Ocean City, said just after noon Friday. "This is only the beginning. ... As the hurricane gets closer, they'll keep getting bigger, and the waves will probably be into the Boardwalk by Sunday at high tide. Already, slowly but surely, the beach is being taken away."

The students in the final surfing classes pre-Bill may not have had much surfing experience, but they could definitely sense that something big was coming.

"It's a huge difference," said Simone McCarron, of Bridgewater. "It was calm at the beginning of the week."

Charlie Morkavich described the waves not by their size but by their sheer numbers.

"There's more of them," he said. "One wave will come, and there'll be two more right behind it."

Gina Cortese, of Rochester, N.Y., had mixed emotions about her three children, Olivia, Chris and Michael, braving the rough waves - "It's pretty cool, but a little scary," she said - but she felt the instructors would know when it was time to get out.

"If the kids get too beat up to finish the lesson, they'll do (surfing) tricks for them," Cortese said. "It's wild, isn't it?"

Madison and Paul Cleveland, of Plattsburgh, N.Y., took to the surf like pros - their mother, Heather, proudly watched Madison ride the surf onto the beach before wiping out.

"Did you get that?" she asked her camera-laden father.

He didn't - but let it here be confirmed in print that it happened.

"They're having fun out there," Cleveland said. "They like it. They enjoy it."

But now that Bill is near, those who aren't pros should be forewarned - it's going to get nasty.

"It's beating me up," said a winded Lloyd Donald, of Medford Lakes. "I don't think I'll be out there."

Staff writers Dan Good and Elain Rose contributed to this report.

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