Sneaker Wave Lesson

You hear a lot of warnings about “sneaker waves” in Oregon.  Well, not so much in eastern Oregon.  🙂

Know the tides
Know the tides

At Tillcum Beach I watched some campers sitting way up in the campground (25′ above the beach) to look at the ocean because they were afraid of sneaker waves.  And I don’t mean they were sitting in their campsite.  They set their chairs on the road at the end of the sidewalk to the north beach access stairway (that’s a long sidewalk).  I realized that some explanation was needed.

We have a very wide, sandy, beach here.  If the beach is this wide, with plenty of room between the edge of the surf and the cliff, you’ll be able to stay dry.  If you are planning a long walk, check the tide tables, so you know if they are going out or coming in and where you are in the cycle.  Look at how wide the dry sand is to determine if you’ll have time for your walk.  High surf also effects how high on the beach the waves will come.

not a tsunami-sized wave
not a tsunami-sized wave

Sneaker waves are not tsunami-sized waves.  They are 1 to 3 feet higher than the others.  How dangerous they are has more to do with what you are walking/standing on.  If you are standing on boulders or tide-pool rocks it is more dangerous than a wide, sandy, beach like this.  Plan your escape route and practice it before your feet get wet.  Rocks that are submerged part of the time grow moss and seaweed that is slippery.  It is difficult to move quickly on slippery boulders.  If a wave knocks you off-balance you’d fall and break something and/or you could get washed out to sea.  The force of a wave should be respected.  If you are standing on boulders that are wet from the waves, you are in danger.

How much beach is left?
How much beach is left?

In this picture, you can see the edge of the surf, the wet sand, the dry sand and the cliff.  See the footprints in the wet sand?  You can tell it has been several hours since the waves have washed over that part of the beach.  It has been, probably, at least a day since the waves have washed over the dry sand.  I say “probably” because if there is wind it will blow dry sand over the wet sand.  Anyway, I am on the beach when the tide is coming in.  You can see how narrow some spots are.  That’s the direction I’m going so I’m not going to hang around here too much longer.  If you enlarge the above picture you can see the dilapidated stairway.  Yes, the waves did that this spring.  Some driftwood probably helped.  But, right now, the tides and surf aren’t high enough to do that kind of damage.

Driftwood comes in all sizes
Driftwood comes in all sizes

The other danger in the waves are hidden logs.  They don’t float on top of the water where you can easily see them.  They are water-logged so they are floating just beneath the surface.

I ran, a couple times, from the sneaker waves this evening as I was agate hunting.  But my feet stayed dry.  🙂

Many people like Tillicum Campground because they can walk 4 miles in either direction on the beach (Waldport to the north and Yachats to the south).

Notes from my Workamping Journal

I remember  3 times when sneaker waves have caused injuries or deaths nearby.  One was an out-of-state couple who was standing on the boulders on the jetty in Newport.  They were both killed.  Another was a local high school student, with a chaperoned group, who was exploring the tide pools at Smelt Sands.  Several people got wet and injured.  One boy lost his life.  Last summer there was a group of students walking around Devil’s Churn when a sneaker wave hit them.  Thankfully no one was killed but several were taken to the hospital with injuries.


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